The first batches of COVID-19 vaccines have mostly been given to healthcare professionals, but a large group of members of the community could start accessing them next week: people over 65 years of age.
Santa Barbara County follows California’s step-by-step system for vaccine distribution and is completing the first priority groups of health care workers, emergency medical staff, and staff in long-term care facilities as skilled nursing homes.
“We expect to double the effort from all hands on deck this week so we can complete Phase 1a,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso told the Board of Supervisors this week.
Residents over the age of 75 are the next eligible group, but the state decided this week to expand it to everyone 65 and older.
It is a much larger group and it is much faster than the public health department expected, Do-Reynoso told Noozhawk on Wednesday.
“Age comes before important workers (when the vaccine is given), unless you have already registered them and given them appointments,”
“It’s there that show up in our hospitals, and it’s that, unfortunately, suffers very seriously to fatalities.”
So far, qualified people have been found in a top-down approach through their employers or the overall facilities in which they live.
For future groups, the county will work with health care providers and community groups to inform people that they are eligible and tell them how to make vaccination agreements for both doses.
An employee at Lompoc Valley Medical Center holds up a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo from Lompoc Valley Medical Center)
The county plans to offer online registration of appointments, has direct outreach to qualified people through health care providers and uses call centers.
“The 2-1-1 call centers will be able to register appointments, and this includes people who do not have access to online platforms or who do not have access to it linguistically,” she said.
When access opens to all adults, which is expected “sometime in the spring,” the county plans to set up mass vaccination clinics and outreach campaigns to spread the message, she said.
There are likely to be drive-through locations, walk-up locations and appointment-only locations throughout the county and mobile vaccination clinics to serve people who do not have access to key locations.
The public health department is already asking partners in the local health system for staff to staff these mass vaccination communities.
“Mass vaccination of our county can not just be us; it has to be everyone, ”Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso stressed that the vaccination distribution process is dynamic and that political decisions come in from the state and federal governments every day.
The county has a website with vaccine information at https://publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/.
Vaccine distribution levels and estimated timeline
The county requests and receives an order of vaccines each week and holds some to vaccinate people through its clinics. It assigns most doses to a network of vaccine providers: hospitals, community clinics, doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies.
The state and county use a prioritized system of phases and levels as supplies are limited.
(Photo from Santa Barbara County Public Health Department)
It is based on the idea of giving the first vaccinations to people who are likely to be exposed to the virus in the workplace (important staff, including those in the health field) and to people who are likely to become seriously ill (those who are elderly and people with serious medical conditions).
The idea was to finish one level at a time and move on to the next.
However, this system created bottlenecks as hospitals and clinics were left with extra doses and no authorized persons to give them to.
California opened it up this week and created a larger pool of qualified people, and the county expects faster vaccinations because of it.
“I think because of the strict level control system, we were excited for a while,” Do-Reynoso said.
California officials decided Wednesday that instead of vaccinating residents 75 and older in the next group, it should be 65 and older – a much larger pool of qualified people.
The direction of using each dose also leads to situations where some providers get ahead of others.
Lompoc Valley Medical Center announced Wednesday that it will vaccinate some of its own patients who are 75 years or older. The center already vaccinated all of its staff and providers facing the patient and had additional doses it needed, Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso admitted that the Department of Public Health was not informed that the LVMC should announce the move and said it would have been nice to have coordinated it better.
The county has received many phone calls from older adults saying it is mostly not fair to non-Lompoc residents, she said.
“So what we are saying is that right now, what Lompoc is doing could be interpreted as making the best use of the vaccine they have been given,” she said. ‘We do not want it to crumble in the fridge or spill.
“For those who are unfortunately not in the health network and who are 75, the public health department will expand to 75-year-olds as soon as next week.”
Patient-facing healthcare workers are currently eligible for the vaccine and can sign up for appointments via the county website here.
“At this time, people providing direct patient care or working in patient care areas are eligible,” and not people working from home, according to the county.
(Photo from Santa Barbara County Public Health Department)
Cottage Health hosts a drive-up vaccine clinic at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital for skilled health workers living or working in Santa Barbara County on Friday and Saturday. The website has more information and a form of registration.
According to the current schedule, people aged 65 and over are expected to be eligible from next week.
In February and March, it will be extended to persons at risk of exposure at work, including:
»Food / grocery and agriculture
»Transport and logistics
»Industrial, commercial, residential and protection facilities and services
‘Kongregate puts shelters and detention centers
Then there are people over 60 and people with underlying health conditions or disabilities who increase their risk of severe COVID-19 if they are infected.
Also those at risk of exposure in the workplace in the following sectors:
»Water and wastewater
»Chemical and hazardous materials
»Communication and IT
»Government operations / community-based essential functions
As Do-Reynoso said, the county expects to open mass vaccination clinics sometime in the spring.
Click here to read more stories from Noozhawk’s Coronavirus section.