With Santa Barbara County expanding vaccine eligibility, members of the County Board of Supervisors voiced concerns Tuesday about maintaining vaccine equity now that all residents over the age of 16 are eligible for inoculation.
During the Supervisors’ first meeting of the month Tuesday, officials heard an update from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department on the status of vaccine distribution.
According to county data, 17.7% of all county residents have been fully vaccinated. But looking at a breakdown of vaccine totals across the county prompted concern among members of the board on Tuesday. According to the county, 21.2% of people in South County have been fully vaccinated, while 13.6% have been vaccinated in North County.
The Public Health Department has targeted its vaccine efforts within North County by providing weekly traveling clinics in both Lompoc and Santa Maria. Yet Board Chair Bob Nelson, the 4th District supervisor, said there appears to be a “growing gap between the North and South County.”
“There have been lots of conversations about people from South County coming up to grab North County appointments … I don’t blame anybody for trying to act on their own self-interest, I just think this is an example of how these two communities are different in the North versus the South,” Mr. Nelson during the meeting.
He added, “I’m really fearful that now that we’ve opened it to 16 and older, that gap is only going to get wider. I think you’re going to see more people from the south, who have been better (at getting appointments) this whole entire time, traveling up north to get at least their initial appointment.”
Mr. Nelson cited data that counted 47,000 people in South County as fully vaccinated and 20,000 people in North County as fully vaccinated.
Das Williams, 1st District supervisor, echoed concern over these statistics, saying there will likely be ramifications that come from this gap.
“The ramifications are that brown people living in the North County are being left behind because they’re not being vaccinated as quickly as my constituents that live in the south,” Mr. Williams said. “We need to think about that.”
The county health department plans to bring their traveling clinic down to Santa Barbara next week, prepared to offer over 7,500 vaccine appointments. The clinic is up in Santa Maria this week, offering more than 9,100 appointments through the weekend.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors also approved a resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis in the county.
Part of the resolution reads, “Systemic racism causes persistent racial discrimination in housing, education, employment transportation and criminal justice. An emerging body of research demonstrates that racism is a social determinant of health and a significant barrier to achieving health equity.”
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the director of the public health department, said her department is joining with other local boards and state officials to “protect and improve” the lives of those feeling the impacts of systemic racism.
“The Department of Social Services, the Department of Behavioral Wellnesses and Public Health, we all serve populations in the county that are disproportionately people of color who suffer the effects of systemic racism and are overwhelmingly living in poverty,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
She added, “The ongoing harms of racism and the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on black, indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander communities in Santa Barbara County will continue to have adverse effects on our health.”
Gregg Hart, the 2nd District supervisor, praised the resolution during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I deeply want this next generation to inherit a county that is free from the inequity fueled by systemic racism,” Mr. Hart said. “This is no easy task. In order to advance racial equity, we must first acknowledge the long history of racism in our country before we can address the challenges that exist.”
In addition to these items, the board also heard an update on the five-year capital improvement program and a proposed fee ordinance from the Public Works Department.