The first batches of COVID-19 vaccines have been given mostly to healthcare workers, but a large group of community members could start getting access next week: people over the age of 65.
Santa Barbara County follows California’s phased system for vaccine distribution, and is on the cusp of finishing the first priority groups of healthcare workers, emergency medical services workers, and staff and residents of long-term care facilities like skilled nursing homes.
“We anticipate doubling down all-hands-on-deck efforts this week so we can finish 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 that to everyone 65 and over.
That’s a much larger group, and it’s much sooner than the Public Health Department expected, Do-Reynoso told Noozhawk on Wednesday.
“Age is going to come before essential workers (in allocating the vaccine) unless you have already registered them and given them appointments,” Do-Reynoso said.
“That’s who’s showing up in our hospitals and that’s who unfortunately is suffering very severe to fatal outcomes.”
So far, eligible people have been found in a top-down approach through their employers or the congregate facilities where they live.
For future groups, the county will need to collaborate with healthcare providers and community groups to notify people they are eligible, and tell them how to make vaccination appointments for both doses.
The county plans to offer online appointment registration, have direct outreach to eligible people through healthcare providers, and use call centers.
“The 2-1-1 call centers will be able to register appointments, and this includes people who don’t have access to online platforms or who linguistically can’t access it,” she said.
When access opens up to all adults, which is expected “sometime this spring,” the county plans to establish mass vaccination clinics and outreach campaigns to spread the word, she said.
There will probably be drive-through sites, walk-up sites, and appointment-only sites all over the county, and mobile vaccination clinics to serve people who cannot access the main locations.
The Public Health Department is already asking partners in the local healthcare system for personnel to staff those mass vaccination community sites.
“To mass vaccinate our county, it can’t be just us; it has to be everyone,” Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso emphasized that the vaccination distribution process is dynamic, and policy decisions are coming in from the state and federal governments every day.
The county has a vaccine information website at https://publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/.
The Vaccine Distribution Tiers and Estimated Timeline
The county requests and receives an order of vaccines each week, and keeps some to vaccinate people through its clinics. It allocates most doses to a network of vaccine providers: hospitals, community clinics, medical offices, and retail pharmacies.
The state and county use a priority system of phases and tiers since supplies are limited.
It is based on the idea of giving the first vaccinations to people who are likely to be exposed to the virus at work (essential workers including those in healthcare fields) and people who are likely to become severely ill (those who are older and people with serious medical conditions).
The idea was to finish one tier at a time and move onto the next.
However, that system created bottlenecks, since hospitals and clinics were left with extra doses and no authorized people to give them to.
California opened it up this week and created a larger pool of eligible people, and the county expects faster vaccinations because of it.
“I think because of the rigorous tiering system, we were hamstrung for a while,” Do-Reynoso said.
California officials decided Wednesday that instead of vaccinating residents 75 years and older in the next group, it should be 65 and older — a much larger pool of eligible people.
The direction to use every dose also leads to situations where some providers get ahead of others.
The Lompoc Valley Medical Center announced Wednesday that it will be vaccinating some of its own patients who are 75 years old or older. The center already vaccinated all of its patient-facing staff members and vendors, and had additional doses it needed to use, Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso admitted the Public Health Department did not get notified LVMC was going to announce the move, and said it would have been nice to have coordinated it better.
The county has been getting a lot of phone calls from older adults who say the most is not fair to non-Lompoc residents, she said.
“So what we’re saying is, right now what Lompoc is doing could be interpreted as making the best use of the vaccine that they’ve been allocated,” she said. ‘We don’t want it to languish in a refrigerator or be wasted.
“For those who are not unfortunately in the healthcare network, who are 75, the Public Health Department will be expanding to the 75-year-olds as soon as perhaps next week.”
Patient-facing healthcare workers are currently eligible for the vaccine, and can register for appointments through the county website here.
“At this time individuals that provide direct patient care or work in patient care areas are eligible,” and not people working from home, according to the county.
Cottage Health is hosting a drive-up vaccine clinic at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital for eligible healthcare workers who live or work in Santa Barbara County on Friday and Saturday. The website has more information and a pre-registration form.
According to the current schedule, people 65 years old and older are expected to be eligible starting next week.
In February and March, that will expand to people at risk of exposure at work in fields including:
» Emergency services
» Food/grocery and agriculture
» Transportation and logistics
» Industrial, commercial, residential and sheltering facilities and services
» Critical Manufacturing
» Congregate setting shelters and detention centers
After that is people over the age of 60, and people with underlying health conditions or disabilities that increase their risk of severe COVID-19 if infected.
Also, those at risk of exposure at work in the following sectors:
» Water and wastewater
» Chemical and hazardous materials
» Communications and IT
» Financial services
» Government operations / community-based essential functions
As Do-Reynoso said, the county expects to open mass vaccination clinics sometime this spring.
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— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.