After health-care workers — like Jennifer Barrera, a telemetry nurse at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria — are vaccinated, the door opens first to people ages 75 and older in roughly February through March. | Credit: Courtesy Marian Regional Medical Center

The long lines of elderly Floridians queuing overnight for a COVID vaccination will not be a scene repeated in Santa Barbara. Appointments will be made, COVID distance protocols will be observed, and so far, said Public Health information officer Jackie Ruiz, all lights were green for sufficient amounts of vaccine for the first and second rounds.

Already, about 6,250 hospital workers in Santa Barbara, Lompoc, and Santa Maria have received inoculations, with a refusal rate somewhere around 30 percent being reported. That was the case at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, said CEO Steve Popkin, though about 20 percent changed their minds after they saw that very few people had adverse reactions. Altogether, 16,770 doses from Pfizer and Moderna have arrived in the county, and 12,100 more are on order from Moderna.

Workers involved in health care from the jails to dental offices have received notices from Santa Barbara’s Public Health Department to fill out forms and sign up for vaccination appointments in Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara. The response has been spirited, particularly in the southern portion of the county.

“There’s no shortage of people taking pictures of themselves and sending messages that they just got vaccinated,” said Ruiz. “Most folks have a real sense of joy and excitement,” she said, adding that for paramedics and other emergency technicians, she could only imagine the vaccine gave some real reassurance of infection protection: “When they respond on-site, they may not know what they’re walking into.”

But when will a vaccine reach the general public? After vaccinations for health-care workers are completed, anticipated to be by the end of January. Discussions with providers are examining “every strategy under the sun” to inoculate the public, Ruiz said, such as possible drive-up or mobile vaccine clinics. In fact, Cottage Health CEO Ron Werft announced last Friday that a drive-up clinic across the street from Goleta Valley hospital for front-line medical workers was in the works for this week or next. The plan was to keep that going, he said, through Public Health’s next tiers of people to be vaccinated.

It will be a few weeks before any appointment plan is worked out, or the exact means of allocating the fragile medications for the general public, Ruiz said. And that information won’t be nailed down until the end of January. What they do know is that initially, primary health-care providers, especially for those with chronic conditions, will be the number one place to go for the vaccine, Ruiz said. As allocations are determined, local health-care centers, Public Health’s distribution sites, and pharmacies will also be places to get vaccinated.

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“We do not advise making an appointment now as we do not know what the plan is just yet,” Ruiz warned. “We will know more in the next few weeks.”

Ruiz said the department had lots of experience with mass inoculations from its annual flu vaccination drive, but the demand is heightened this year. Plus, everyone needs to return in about 28 days for the booster shot: “When folks come to the initial vaccination POD (point of dispensing), they are registered for their next vaccine. And they’ll get text reminders of the appointment through VaxText,” Ruiz explained. She said the first shot gave about 50 percent coverage from getting COVID-19, while the second conferred 95 percent immunity or better.

After health-care workers, the next group to be vaccinated — from February through March — are people over the age of 75, and essential workers in the fields of food, grocery, and agriculture; education and childcare; and emergency services like fire, law enforcement, probation, and corrections. They make up Phase 1B, Tier 1.

The Phase 1B group in Tier 2 that follows, which is in the same time period, are people ages 65 to 74, as well as inmates, those without a home, essential workers in transportation and logistics, industrial residential commercial workers, and critical manufacturing workers.

The next group gets the shot in the arm after Phases 1A and 1B are completed, anticipated to be toward the end of March. That group, Phase 1C, Tier 1, is anyone between ages 65 and 74. The group also includes medically high-risk individuals from ages 16-74, and essential workers in water and wastewater management, defense, energy, chemical and hazardous materials, communications and IT, financial services, and government operations and community services.

Second to last on the list is anyone 16 years or older and not already on the other vaccination priority list. The last group is anyone not previously vaccinated. (Check Public Health’s vaccine page for the most up-to-date information.)

Public Health’s Jackie Ruiz said her department has been using the first week of rollout — during which about 500 people were vaccinated — to test their system of supplying refrigerated vaccines and the demand. 

“We need to be sure our staff knows exactly what they’re doing: that they’re intentional about their use of the vaccine, how much to bring to the POD, things like that. We wanted to make sure we’re confident in the process before we really ramped up.”

To that end, Public Health is doubling its capacity at all its sites this week, Ruiz said. Not only are nursing staff from Public Health involved, but volunteers through the Medical Reserve Corps have also stepped up for training in the vaccination process and need for consistency.

“The vaccines are safe and reliable,” Ruiz assured. “Our mission is to make sure it is distributed in an equitable way, so we’re working with all our community partners to serve all the communities, send clear messages that the vaccine is available, and to get everyone used to the idea that it’s safe and will protect them.”

Correction: This story was changed on January 12 to reflect the new direction that persons ages 65-74 may be vaccinated in Phase 1B, Tier 2, removing the requirement for having a high-risk medical conditions.

Update: Following the publication of this story, the Public Health Department announced that people 65 and older are now also eligible to receive the vaccine.

At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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