One of the greater challenges of vaccine distribution isn’t administering the actual doses, but sharing information about the vaccines to the public.
“The communications about the vaccinations have been really challenging because of the structure of the description of the system,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said. “If we start off with jargon, with tiers and 1A and 1B and C, people will never catch up. They’ll never be comfortable with the system.”
Beyond the jargon Hart referenced, vaccine rollout has more challenges in Santa Barbara. Many seniors ages 75 and older, who are in the next group of people to receive vaccines, are anxious to make their appointments. Because of the state’s vaccine guidance, those wishing to make their appointments ahead of time don’t yet have the option to.
Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said that part of the holdup was the strict adherence to state guidance that only allowed Public Health to administer the vaccine to one group at a time within group 1A, the patient-facing health-care workers who are in the first group of those to get vaccinated. Last week, the state allowed the county to vaccinate all groups within 1A concurrently, and that started to speed the process up.
As it turns out, Santa Barbara County is doing pretty well. The state has given about 27 percent of its vaccine doses out, and nationally the average is about 30 percent. Santa Barbara County, on the other hand, has distributed 54 percent of its vaccines.
So when can the next group start lining up to take their vaccines? Early February. Although appointments can’t be made right now, those who are over 75 can be sure their turn is on the way. Do-Reynoso explained that while notifying people of their vaccine eligibility via their employer was successful with the first group, many in the next group are retired.
So, they will be notified of their turn via their primary care doctor and can also get their vaccine at retail pharmacies. Public Health vaccination sites will also be set up throughout the county. She also said that Public Health is developing mobile clinics to offer vaccines in specific locations to specific populations, such as senior housing or farmworkers.
Those with questions on their eligibility can email firstname.lastname@example.org or dial 2-1-1. The county staffed eight employees to answer calls, and Public Health has two full-time employees working to answer emails about vaccines.
But not all had concerns about their vaccine eligibility. Some had fears of the opposite.
“I have some different concerns than my colleagues,” said 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson. “Some of my constituents are concerned about the vaccination being mandatory at some point. Is there any talk of that?”
This was Nelson’s first meeting after taking over the seat from his former boss, former Supervisor Peter Adam. He represents a more conservative district in the county. Do-Reynoso told him that it is not mandatory because it is under emergency-use authorization. Once it has full FDA approval, in two years or so, she anticipates that it will be a different conversation and it will be left up to employers.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino wondered when vaccines would be enough to “go back to normal, whatever that means.”
“People will continue to hold on and do their part when they can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “How many people would we need to vaccinate in the county before we can start relaxing these stay-at-home orders?”
The answer wasn’t simple. Do-Reynoso explained that it is the intensive-care-unit capacity that needs to grow before the regional stay-at-home order is lifted. Vaccines, though an important tool for combating the pandemic, will not pull Santa Barbarans out of the stay-at-home order on their own.
COVID-19 Continues to Soar
Despite the fact that vaccine rollout is going well in Santa Barbara, the county is still exploding with COVID-19 cases. Over the past four weeks since the holidays, there has been an “astronomical” increase in the county’s adjusted case rate, which now stands at 64, Do-Reynoso said. Testing positivity increased by 114 percent over the past four weeks, and the county’s intensive care unit capacity is hovering around 11 percent.
Contact tracers have determined that the majority of those who have contracted the virus during week 52 of the pandemic work in office settings, are under 18, or are retired/unemployed. This only captures 41 percent of the surge data because contact tracers are still interviewing the COVID-19-positive individuals.
First District Supervisor Das Williams was concerned about which individuals are traveling to the county and possibly bringing the virus with them. It is mandatory for out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 10 days, although Santa Barbara does not have a message to visitors saying such.
“Could we do a better job of letting people know [to quarantine]?” Williams asked. “It’s a big deal at L.A. County, and they apparently let people know at airports.”
Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg agreed with Williams and said more targeted messaging would be good, though he didn’t give an example or say how that messaging could be rolled out to visitors.
Though mass testing was a difficult feat in the beginning of the pandemic, testing for the virus has mushroomed, and the county is at an all-time testing capacity high. There are 1,173 testing opportunities in the county per day.
Public Health opened its first mobile testing site Monday at CenCal Health in Santa Barbara that can administer 538 tests per day alone. It will be open from Monday through Friday for a minimum of two weeks before moving to a new location in the county. To schedule an appointment, click here.
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.
Every day, the staff of the Santa Barbara Independent works hard to sort out truth from rumor and keep you informed of what’s happening across the entire Santa Barbara community. Now there’s a way to directly enable these efforts. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.