Ron Werft, President and CEO of Cottage Health. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

A batch of nearly 4,000 doses of Moderna-manufactured COVID vaccines in Santa Barbara County have been cleared by state public health officials after a safety scare put a temporary pause on more than 300,000 doses of the vaccine. This helps alleviate some of the intense strain on the health care system caused by an acute shortage of vaccines coupled with growing demand, but only somewhat.

Cottage Hospital CEO Ron Werft sent out a letter to the community Thursday noting that for the first time, last week, COVID hospitalizations surged over 100 at Cottage Hospital. This week the county has more than 200 COVID patients hospitalized. Werft also noted that Santa Barbara County now has more than 2,500 active COVID cases, cautioning that 10 percent of these will need to be hospitalized for care. “Hospital stays for COVID are longer than average stays and this is putting a strain on hospital staff and capacity,” he said.

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Werft’s letter came in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s declaration earlier this week that COVID vaccines would be made available to people 65 and older. Werft cautioned that it would take time to accommodate all the members of this population given limits on existing supplies. First priority, he stated, would be given to frontline health professionals and people 75 and older. Santa Barbara has approximately 30,000 residents 75 and older.  If and when additional supplies were made available, Werft added, Cottage would begin administering vaccines to those ages 65-74.

Exacerbating the stresses and strains on California’s health-care infrastructure have been concerns that were raised earlier this week about a batch of 330,000 doses of the vaccine distributed to 287 health-care providers throughout California. In what has been described as “an extreme abundance of caution,” state health authorities imposed a “pause” on the injection of these doses because six individuals in an undisclosed location — not in Santa Barbara — reported severe allergic reactions within a 24-hour period. None were so sick they required hospitalization. Of this batch, 3,900 had been sent to health-care providers in Santa Barbara County. Given that the county had received only 32,075 doses — 65 percent of which had been dispensed by this Tuesday — a pause of this magnitude could and has had significant ripples. Of those, about 65 percent had actually been injected by this Tuesday. For Sansum Clinic, it meant 500 doses were put on hold. With these doses now being un-paused, county health-care providers will experience less immediate supply chain strain.

The tension between supply and demand, however, is far from ameliorated, as Werft’s letter clearly attests. To date, he said, Cottage had administered 5,800 doses — mostly to health-care providers, but to some residents 75 and older, too. Speaking of the latter, Werft stated, “We were only able to scratch the surface with our limited stock of 1,000 doses, all of which were administered in the initial two-day clinic.” Cottage has since opened a second two-day clinic — starting today — out of the parking lot of its Patterson Avenue facility in Goleta. For this, 1,500 doses are scheduled to be administered. Werft said the shortages Cottage is experiencing are common to other providers throughout the county. “There is high demand but very little vaccine at this time,” he stated. “It will take some time for the supply chain and resources to catch up.” Adding to the confusion, he commented, “The vaccine allocations are very difficult to predict and information changes rapidly.”

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