Local skilled nursing facilities report high COVID-19 vaccination rates overall, but lower rates for booster shots among residents, who are often at risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, and among health-care workers, who are mandated to get the shots by Feb. 1.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the coronavirus case rate among skilled nursing residents with a booster dose was 10 times lower than other groups (people who are fully vaccinated without a booster, and people who are unvaccinated) in early January.
Among Santa Barbara County’s 14 skilled nursing facilities, the percent of fully vaccinated residents who have received a COVID-19 booster ranges from 100% to 13.8%.
Eleven facilities have staff booster rates below 50% as of Jan. 9, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
County Public Health Department spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz said the department has a mobile vaccination team that is visiting skilled nursing, assisted living and other senior residential care facilities to provide boosters to residents and staff. The program started in October, she said.
Facilities can request a vaccination clinic visit here: https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/17f83b3449504a18afd8c2824b9a6230
Skilled nursing facilities are also using federal pharmacy partnerships that they used for the initial COVID-19 vaccination effort in early 2021, Ruiz said.
As Noozhawk has reported previously, that pharmacy partnership program focused on skilled nursing facilities specifically, while some other long-term care facilities had to be proactive in requesting vaccination clinics.
A December order from the California Department of Public Health requires health-care workers at skilled nursing facilities to receive boosters and be up to date on vaccinations by Feb. 1, unless they have an approved exemption.
The state agency also increased testing requirements to twice weekly for booster-eligible health-care workers who have not yet received their booster and for unvaccinated workers with exemptions, according to the county Public Health Department.
Congregate care facilities have seen severe COVID-19 outbreaks over the past two years, and more than 170 COVID-19 deaths in Santa Barbara County as of May 2021.
Eighty-four local skilled nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, according to federal data.
California implemented stricter visitation requirements in early January as an effort to prevent future outbreaks.
Although long-term residential care facilities for the elderly are known to be at high risk for devastating consequences from COVID-19 outbreaks and were prioritized for early vaccination in 2021, many residents have not yet received their booster shots.
People 65 and older have been eligible for boosters since October and all adults became eligible in November. The COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection against severe illness and death.
The CDC reported on Jan. 10 that 60.2% of residents in California nursing homes who have completed the vaccination series had received an additional primary or booster dose.
Nationally, the rate is about 63.4%, according to the CDC.
Eight of the county’s skilled nursing facilities report active infections among health-care staff.
The Lompoc Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center currently has 24 residents and 37 staff members infected with the coronavirus, according to state data.
Marian Regional Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility in Santa Maria has 20 active cases among staff and zero cases among residents.
Some of the facilities list zero available beds capable of isolation as of Friday.
These outbreaks can also affect hospital capacity, not just for patients admitted for treatment, but for patients who have received treatment and cannot be discharged.
“Skilled nursing facility availability and status is important for the ability to safely discharge a lot of patients,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, who heads up Cottage Health’s infectious diseases division, said in early January when discussing hospital staffing shortages.
“If we had four patients who can’t be placed and were already at a staffing shortage crisis, just an extra one day in the hospital for those patients compounds the staffing problem, too.”
On Friday, Lompoc Valley Medical Center CEO Steve Popkin said the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is “artificially high throughout the county due to significant delays in transferring patients from the acute hospital to skilled nursing facilities.”
How to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine Provider
COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots are widely available in Santa Barbara County and the rest of California.
Visit the Public Health Department vaccine page as a starting point to find providers (pharmacies, doctors’ offices, county-run pop-up clinics) and a time that works for you.
Vaccination opportunities are also available on the state’s MyTurn page, where you can directly book appointments for some providers.
Find more information about the county’s mobile vaccine program here: https://publichealthsbc.org/mobile-vaccine-program/
Long-term care facilities and other organizations can request a vaccination clinic on site through the county website here: https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/17f83b3449504a18afd8c2824b9a6230
Request vaccinations for homebound or bedbound individuals here: https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/992baf323597443f94c3df059169251e
The graphic explains which COVID-19 vaccines are approved and available for each age group in the United States.
The pediatric Pfizer vaccine is a smaller dose, and the county Public Health Department has been holding vaccination clinics at schools and other youth-focused organizations since children became eligible to get shots in November.
The CDC recommends adults receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of concerns of rare blood clots called thrombosis, with thrombocytopenia syndrome found in some individuals who received the J&J shot.