As COVID-19 vaccination appointments go unfilled in both the North and South County, Santa Barbara County Public Health officials are looking to debunk false information regarding the vaccine and encourage those who are “on the fence” to get vaccinated.

“We know that there are quite a few individuals who have not yet decided if they want to get vaccinated or not, maybe they have some concerns about the safety of the vaccines,” Public Health Officer Henning Ansorg said at Friday’s weekly COVID-19 briefing. “Please rest assured that we are taking the safety of the vaccines very seriously.”

Common concerns causing vaccine hesitancy are the effects of the vaccine on fertility or pregnancy in women, Ansorg said. However, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not affect fertility at all and are safe during pregnancy, he added.

Some people believe that they do not need to get vaccinated if they were already infected with the virus, Ansorg said, adding that the vaccines give higher protection against emerging virus variants and the immunity triggered by the vaccine is more robust than the immunity that comes from a previous infection.

There are some short-term side effects that may occur after vaccination, such as headaches, fever, or pain at the injection site, but those symptoms usually last only one or two days and can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, according to Ansorg.

“These reactions actually show that the vaccine is stimulating the immune response in the body, and they are expected,” Ansorg said, adding that these symptoms occur with other vaccinations as well.

Some residents may be concerned about how fast the vaccines were developed, Ansorg said. However, the underlying biotechnology of the vaccine and other viruses has been studied for at least a decade, and no corners were cut during the completion of the mandatory phases to gain the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorization, he added.

There are no reported long-term side effects of the vaccine, but the first doses in the trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were given in March 2020, Ansorg said. After 13 months, he said, there are no known long-term effects of the vaccine.

Vaccine hesitancy comes from various reasons, Ansorg said, noting that it’s “very mind-boggling” and not a “one-size-fits-all” situation.

The county has not yet reached the 80% threshold of vaccinated residents to obtain herd immunity, Ansorg said. In a rough estimate, Ansorg said that about 20% of the county’s residents are “categorically against” vaccinations in general, but 60% “definitely want the shot.” 

The remaining 20% of people are still “on the fence,” and Public Health is making an extra effort to debunk false information and make vaccines accessible to that population, Ansorg said.

“We just want to encourage everyone to help us and be our partner. Encourage your family, your friends, your loved ones to get vaccinated,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said. “I think it’s going to take all of us to be encouragers, to be available to answer questions.”

As of Thursday, 27.5% of Santa Barbara County’s population was fully vaccinated, according to the county’s Community Data Dashboard. Altogether, 42% of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Do-Reynoso.

The county has administered a little more than 84% of the vaccine doses that Public Health has received, and the remaining percentage has been committed toward upcoming appointments, Do-Reynoso said.

Public Health will be offering two community vaccination clinics next week, on Tuesday in Santa Barbara and Wednesday in Santa Maria. No appointments will be necessary for the clinics, and walk-ups will be accepted, Do-Reynoso said.

However, residents can still schedule an appointment for the clinics using MyTurn or by calling 2-1-1 and selecting option four, she added.

Public Health vaccinated more than 1,000 people in the first four days that the new mobile vaccination clinics were utilized, Do-Reynoso said. Each mobile clinic can provide 50 to 300 Moderna shots at workplaces, housing facilities, places of worship, warehouses and community organizations, according to Do-Reynoso. 

Each mobile vaccination team has bilingual staff, and the clinics can travel throughout the county, Do-Reynoso said. 

A mobile clinic will be headed to the UC Santa Barbara area next week or the week following in order to vaccinate the UCSB community, Do-Reynoso said.

Click here to find out how to request a mobile vaccination clinic.

Public Health officials on Friday reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.

The individual who died was between ages 50 and 69 and had underlying health conditions. The death was not associated with a congregate care site, and the individual’s area of residence was pending, according to Public Health.

The county’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll rose to 448.

There have been 245 cases reported in the county during the past week, averaging 35 new cases per day.

Of the new cases reported Friday, six were from the Montecito-Summerland-Carpinteria area. Isla Vista and Santa Barbara each reported five new cases, the Santa Maria Valley tallied three, the Lompoc Valley logged two and the Goleta Valley reported one.

One case was still pending geographic location, and there have been 34,017 confirmed cases in the county since the pandemic began.

Data for COVID-19 patients hospitalized and those being treated in intensive care units was not available Friday due to incomplete reporting by one hospital, according to the Public Health Department.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.