Just half an hour after lowering the age eligibility on Monday, vaccination appointments at the two-day clinic at the Santa Barbara Hilton (above) were completely filled. | Credit: Jackson Friedman

As more people become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, efforts to make the shots more equitable have taken center stage for Santa Barbara County.

Due to a large volume of availability, eligibility opened up this week to those 16 and older at Pfizer clinics, the full list of which is here. Many people, particularly those who live in the South County, have traveled to North County or even to other nearby counties to get their vaccine when local appointments were all booked. 

“It has been concerning to me to look at the numbers day in and day out, and there seems to be a growing gap between North and South County,” said 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson on Tuesday. “If you just look at the numbers, in the north, we have about 20,000 people fully vaccinated, yet in the south, we have 47,000.” Nelson added that he didn’t blame others for traveling to North County for vaccines because they are looking out for their own interests.

But 1st District Supervisor Das Williams disagreed. 

He said the first thing to do in an emergency isn’t to “always think of ourselves first.” He said people contribute to the vaccine disparities when they’re “taking a drive to Dodger Stadium or Hanford or even into North County without regard to what the ramification is. The ramification is that brown people living in the North County are being left behind because they’re not vaccinated in as high numbers as my constituents in the south are.”

But this leaves some in the south unsure where to get their dose. Just half an hour after lowering the age eligibility to 16 and older, vaccination appointments at the Santa Barbara Hilton two-day clinic were completely filled. Even with increased vaccine allocation from the federal government, there are more people eligible than there are vaccine appointments. Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart saw the issue differently because of this. 

“There is a dynamic in this event that’s a little different because everyone’s getting vaccinated as fast as possible — anyone getting vaccinated as fast as possible anywhere in the county — is helping everybody by reducing the spread of the virus,” Hart said. “Having empty appointments go unfilled isn’t in anyone’s interest.”

This week, the county received 4,900 first-dose vaccines from the state. In addition, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) allocation brought 14,760 doses to five county health-care centers. It is with this larger allocation that the county is able to support its large community vaccination sites. Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said that the county’s first week-long HRSA clinic in Lompoc last week was successful and gave 8,314 first-dose appointments. So far, 138,000 county residents have been vaccinated, or 36 percent of adults in the county.

Do-Reynoso also gave an update on the county’s status. The California Department of Public Health just met its goal to administer four million vaccines to those living in the state’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Because it reached its goal, the standard for entering the red tier will be widened to 6-10 new cases per 100,000 residents ― rather than its previous requirement of 4-10. The county would have placed out of the red tier last week when its adjusted case rate was 5.3; however, it has since jumped to 6.8 and is now still in the red tier.

Do-Reynoso said the uptick is likely a result of reopening. She also said they are seeing higher than average numbers of cases in 20-year-olds and in people who identify as college students for their occupation.  In addition, she is currently seeing an increase in cases among white residents, although Latinos still make up the majority of cases. 

Though Do-Reynoso didn’t mention it at the Tuesday meeting, Governor Gavin Newsom announced earlier in the day that California is aiming to fully reopen its economy June 15, though the date isn’t set in stone. It all depends on the state getting a sufficient vaccine supply and having a low number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

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