“It is indeed a happy day,” said Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso in her first few words at Friday evening’s virtual COVID press conference. Do-Reynoso was referring to the 61 percent of county residents over 16 years old who have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and the 45 percent who are fully vaccinated.
Individuals 65 and older are leading in vaccination rates, with over 8 in 10 having received their first dose. Younger age groups are lagging, with only 4 in 10 individuals ages 16-29 with at least one dose.
As soon as this coming Thursday, emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to become available to all individuals 12 years and older, according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s Public Health Officer. “Having students vaccinated will greatly improve their safety, and it will help the whole community get closer to a state of herd immunity,” said Ansorg.
In the past two weeks, those under 18 years old, followed by 20- to 30-year-olds, have had the most positive COVID cases. Most of the outbreaks occurred at various high schools, mainly among student athletes, as well as from unsanctioned social events, according to Ansorg. This comes as no surprise, as only 40 percent of youth in that age group are vaccinated.
As vaccine appointments become widely available throughout the county, Do-Reynoso urged those who have not been vaccinated to make an appointment or find a mobile vaccine clinic.
In the three weeks that Public Health has been operating mobile vaccine clinics, staffers booked 58 locations, including agricultural work sites, community centers, community based-organizations, low-income housing blocks, and more. Public Health will soon be expanding the mobile sites to include farmers’ markets, swap meets, and open-air markets.
These new locations will not require appointments, and anyone who has not been vaccinated is encouraged to come grab their shot, according to De-Reynoso. Large-scale vaccination sites have been successful, and Public Health is now targeting efforts toward hard-to-reach communities.
On May 6, Public Health partnered with UCSB by setting up a mobile clinic on campus and administering nearly 300 vaccine doses. Public Health plans to continue these efforts into Isla Vista, as well as use social media to reassure students that the vaccination is both safe and convenient to receive.
“We are about to enter a transition phase in the pandemic, where public-health mandates will be replaced by recommendations and advice,” said Ansorg, who reminded the public that fully vaccinated people can mingle with other vaccinated friends in private indoor settings and outdoors, without social distancing or mask-wearing. This flexibility comes just in time for Mother’s Day on Sunday.
As for moving into the least restrictive yellow tier, it is anticipated that this will not occur in the upcoming week, as the county’s current case rate hovers between 3.8 and 4. With the June 15 deadline of lifting all tier restrictions, De-Reynoso was unsure whether the county was on track to meet this date, but she hoped that as more citizens get vaccinated and practice safety measures, the goal will be met.
First and second vaccine doses remain readily available. To make an appointment visit https://myturn.ca.gov, or simply walk in to any of the Public Health vaccine clinics. Many pharmacies and hospitals are also offering walk-in doses without appointment.