The announcement on Friday that 65- to 74-year-olds can join the vaccination line came with two big limitations: If there’s enough vaccine and if you can get an appointment.
With only 6,000 doses arriving per week in the County of Santa Barbara and more than 40,000 people in the new tier, the bottlenecks are obvious. Public Health officials in both the county and the nation have held out hope that Pfizer and Moderna — and possibly Johnson & Johnson if its contender is approved — will be able to produce and provide more vaccine, but the question of “when” has no answer.
As for the “how” of getting on a vaccination list, public vaccination sites are open and new ones are opening. Some health-care providers offer the vaccine. Sign-ups are mostly through each provider’s website, although the county’s 2-1-1 information system is available for residents without computer access. Unsurprisingly, it is choked with calls. With demand intense, Public Health posted a note asking that only residents who qualify for the vaccine attempt to get an appointment and that the ineligible will be turned away.
Well-organized, socially distanced vaccination sites have been set up by the hospitals in the county. Webpages at the Cottage, Marian, and Lompoc hospital sites are the best way to make appointments. The small allocation of vaccine means they fill up fast, though the pharmacy at Marian in Santa Maria has received additional quantities from the federal government. The rest of the allocations in the county are coming from the State of California to County Public Health for distribution.
Some pharmacies are receiving doses, but many may not be ready to handle vaccinations on Tuesday, the first day for the new tier. The list includes Vons, Sav-On, and Ralphs in Montecito, Carpinteria, Santa Maria, Orcutt, and Lompoc. The CVS pharmacies in Buellton and Santa Maria are taking appointments, too. County Public Health’s website contains the details on which pharmacies will give the shot and a link to schedule an appointment.
Primary care providers are operating on a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” basis in offering the vaccine. For the most part, only the largest organizations are vaccinating existing patients, such as Sansum Clinic or the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.
Jackie Ruiz, a spokesperson for County Public Health, noted that vaccine providers are starting on the second doses for the first tier of patients as well as opening to the new tier. This could eat up a good number of vaccination slots until the second round is complete. And, in the ever-evolving California COVID plan, insurance giant Blue Shield will take over vaccine distribution in the coming weeks or months. What that means for the ongoing effort to vaccinate the county is unknown as the details are still being sorted out.
Also important to note is that the vaccination is free, Social Security numbers are not required, and insurance is also not required. During a Town Hall meeting last week, more than 4,000 residents tuned in as Public Health officials answered questions such as these from the African-American, Latinx, and Mixteco communities. Public Health officials have been working with the less-served communities through Public Health clinics to ensure the vaccine is made available among the eligible tiers equitably, an effort that could expand when Blue Shield assumes more of the vaccine distribution role.
Public Health sends regular updates on vaccine availability. To sign up to receive them, go to signup.e2ma.net/signup/1937902/1753150/. Another route to get information is California’s MyTurn.ca.gov, which registers residents for eligibility updates for Santa Barbara County.
CORRECTION: The initial version of this story erroneously stated teachers, grocery-store workers, emergency personnel, and agricultural workers were eligible. While they are in this tier, they are not yet on the county’s vaccination list. Information will come from employers, health-care providers, and Public Health once they may apply.