Healthcare workers at Lompoc Valley Medical Center get COVID-19 vaccines in early January.
Healthcare workers at Lompoc Valley Medical Center get COVID-19 vaccines in early January.  (Lompoc Valley Medical Center photo)

Most eligible health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Santa Barbara County are choosing to receive the novel coronavirus vaccine so far.

Cottage Health has vaccinated nearly two-thirds of its staff working onsite — more than 2,900 people to date — and its vaccine clinic continues for first and second doses, spokeswoman Maria Zate said Wednesday afternoon.

Staff choose whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Zate said.

“Currently, it is not mandatory, and PPE (personal protective equipment) and COVID safety protocols continue, regardless of vaccine status,” Zate said. “We are seeing the majority who are eligible choose to get vaccinated, eager to get one step closer to ending this pandemic.”

Cottage Health operates hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Ynez. Employees began receiving the second dose this week, Zate said.

More than 600 Lompoc Valley Medical Center employees and physicians have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday morning, according to CEO Steve Popkin. Of those, 366 got the Pfizer vaccine, and 235 received the Moderna vaccine. 

Initially, about 30% of LVMC employees declined the vaccine, Popkin said. 

“After seeing that adverse reactions to the vaccine have been very minimal, about 20% of those employees who initially declined changed their mind and have now been vaccinated,” Popkin said. “Employees who have not yet been vaccinated are still being encouraged to receive the vaccination.”

The LVMC expected to receive its allocation of Pfizer second doses on Wednesday, Popkin said, and the LVMC planned to begin administering the vaccinations later in the day.

Dignity Health Central Coast hospitals this week have begun to administer the first doses of the Moderna vaccine, a shipment that was received last week, said Sara San Juan, director of marketing and communications for Dignity Health Central Coast Division.

Dignity Health is comprised of several hospitals, including Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

Tables of vaccine-related educational materials are available to staff checking in at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Tables of vaccine-related educational materials are available to staff checking in at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy photo)

So far, Dignity Health has vaccinated 1,840 health care workers with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The number accounts for more than 60% of its workers. There are 3,000 employees and medical staff overall, San Juan said.

Dignity Health employees are not required to be vaccinated for employment, San Juan said.

“As expected with any vaccine, particularly one approved under an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) emergency use authorization, there are staff who will decline,” San Juan said. “We will continue to offer vaccine for those who wish to receive it.”

Dignity Health employees who received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine will begin to receive their second doses near the end of this week.

At Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, 160 employees of 176 were vaccinated as of Tuesday, said Dr. Susan Lawton, SBNC’s associate medical director and lead clinician at the westside location.

More SBNC employees will be vaccinated this week, Lawton said. About 16 SBNC employees still need to receive the first Moderna COVID-19 dose, and some are on vacation, she said. 

“A few are still waiting,” Lawton said.

Some SBNC employees were hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Some who initially refused decided to get the vaccine this week, after they saw the bulk of the clinic staff get their vaccines on Saturday (Jan. 2),”  Lawton said. “We still have a small percentage declining.”

SBNC employees are expecting to receive the second Moderna COVID-19 vaccine around Jan. 30, Lawton said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorizations for both Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, “which have been shown to be safe and effective as determined by data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states. “These data demonstrate that the known and potential benefits of this vaccine outweigh the known and potential harms of becoming infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

According to the Public Health Department, there are an estimated 20,000 frontline medical workers in the county.

To date, the county Public Health Department said more than 900 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the first local positive confirmed case in March.

Santa Barbara County has administered at least 54% of the 16,775 COVID-19 vaccines allocated to people “eligible and those who wanted it,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said during Tuesday’s press briefing. That 54% “is on the higher end than what our governor reported, as well as many of our colleagues across the state and nation,” Do-Reynoso said.

California health care providers have administered about 35% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses that arrived in the state as of Monday, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom

The county Public Health Department will follow guidelines from the California Department of Public Health and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to prioritize a phased vaccine distribution in the county, public health said.

The state Department of Public Health approved the county to proceed with vaccinating all three tiers in Phase 1A concurrently, Do-Reynoso said.

The county Public Health Department said vaccine distribution will be prioritized to: 1) people at risk of virus exposure through their work in any role in direct health care, emergency services or long-term care settings, and 2) residents of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar long-term care setting for older or medically vulnerable residents. 

COVID-19 vaccination is underway in Phase 1A Tier 1, according to county public health officials. The vaccine distribution in Phase 1A Tier 1 includes staff of acute care hospitals, psych, correctional facility hospitals, staff and residents in long-term care setting serving older and high risk, emergency medical service and dialysis center staff.

Emergency medical services personnel, including the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, began receiving the COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday. The county Public Health Department “sent out the invitation to our dialysis center staff,” Do-Reynoso said. “Please vaccinate if you’re eligible when it’s your turn.”

The county Public Health Department next week is expecting to offer between 350 and 500 COVID-19 vaccines daily, and is planning to administer about 1,000 vaccine doses a day by early February, Do-Reynoso said.

“We are working fast and furious to make sure that our community can get the vaccine,” she said. 

There are 42 approved vaccination sites in the county, and those providers are ramping up for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort, Van Do-Reynoso said.

“We anticipate that within the next few weeks, we will have tripled the number of providers giving the vaccine in our county,” she said. 

The first COVID-19 doses are expected to be given to the general public by late March or April, according to Do-Reynoso.

“It will take weeks and months to get the vaccine to everyone who wants it,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County’s public health officer, said on Tuesday.

Click here for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s information page on COVID-19 vaccines and the estimated distribution timeline.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.