$1.63 million in grants announced for Central Coast efforts to get people vaccinated and boosted
As other officials talked about COVID-19 and a possible holiday spike, Dr. Henning Ansorg made his point by quietly putting on a big mask at a news conference Tuesday morning.
The crowd of officials and journalists chuckled, but officials were serious about prevention.
“Even though masks are not required, they’re highly recommended,” U.S. Rep. Salud Carabajal said as he stood outside next to Dr. Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, and others outside the Santa Barbara County Health Care Center.
They gathered at the Santa Barbara site to hear Rep. Carbajal’s announcement about four new grants totalling $1,634,218 to increase the number of Central Coast residents who have received the new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot. The booster is designed to combat more recent variants of the coronavirus.
“While we have made great strides at reducing COVID-19’s control over our lives on the Central Coast, the constantly-improving tools that we have to keep this virus at bay won’t help anyone if people fail to take the time to use them,” Rep. Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, told the small audience of local journalists. “In order to keep our communities and frontline workers protected from newer strains of COVID-19, and keep our hospitals from being overrun in this perfect storm of multiple infectious illnesses this winter, we need more people to get these boosters.
“I’m proud that the federal funding that I’ve supported for our federal health departments are coming back to help our local health officials get these shots in arms as quickly as possible,” he said.
The $1.63 million breaks down to these four grants:
— $1,041,493 for Community Health Centers for the Central Coast.
— $265,765 for Santa Barbara County.
— $214,258 for Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.
— $112,7902 for American Indian Health and Services.
The funding is made possible by a 12% increase in the annual Health and Human Services budget, for which Rep. Carbajal voted in March.
Nearly 70% of Santa Barbara County residents have had their primary series of COVID-19 shots, a County Public Health Department representative told the News-Press.
Dr. Ansorg would like to see the number take a dramatic jump.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said, answering a News-Press question about the ultimate goal. “We would love 95% or more to be vaccinated. Five percent probably can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons. We would like to have as many people vaccinated as possible.”
He and others noted that vaccinations and boosters, including the shots covering the latest variants, prevent serious illness and hospitalizations.
“All those people who didn’t get vaccinated need to get vaccinated because they’re the ones who are getting seriously ill, and they’re the ones who are dying,” Rep. Carbajal told the News-Press after the press conference.
Officials also stressed the importance of people getting the boosters that cover the latest variants.
According to Rep. Carbajal’s office, less than 20% of the eligible Santa Barbara County residents have received that booster.
Officials at Tuesday’s press conference said people can get their COVID-19 and flu shots at the same time. Officials reminded people about the elevated rates of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus.
Officials stressed the importance of frequent hand washing, wearing a face covering in indoor settings and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
“It is important, more than ever, especially at the peak of the flu season and with an increase of in-person travel and loved ones coming together for the holidays that we continue to vaccinate those that can be vaccinated,” Scott Black, CEO of American Indian Health & Services, told reporters.
Dr. Susan Lawton, the new chief medical officer for Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, said preventative health is a key pillar of health care. “Immunizations, known for decades to be safe and effective, are an important but underutilized part of preventative care. Our primary care, family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics providers all focus on keeping our seen patients up to date on recommended vaccines for their age.”
Dr. Noemi Doohan, the medical director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s Health Care Centers, said pharmacies have proven to be helpful in administering vaccines. And she said that as COVID-19 changes from a pandemic to an endemic, more and more people will get vaccinated when they visit their primary care provider.
“As we said earlier, you can get your flu and COVID-19 vaccine together,” she said. “It’s bringing that care into the clinics that we hope will move the needle on COVID-19.”
She also suggested that people take advantage of Santa Barbara County’s great weather and have their holiday gatherings outside, which reduces the risk of getting COVID-19.
“And it would be really wise for people to test themselves on the morning before they gather with their family members and isolate themselves if they’re positive (for COVID-19) or if they symptoms,” Dr. Doohan said.
Rep. Carbajal said healthcare professionals have learned what works in persuading people to get the COVID-19 shots. “They’re now trying to build on those successes and implement strategies.”
Dr. Ansorg noted the County Public Health Department has developed good partnerships with community-based organizations, particularly in North County. “Over time, this collaboration has really strengthened the outreach that we can achieve.”
The News-Press asked the officials about efforts to get shots to young children, in light of recent FDA and CDC approval of bivalent vaccines and boosters for ages as young as 6 months. Like the bivalent shots for adults, these shots cover the latest variants of COVID-19.
“We are going to encourage the vaccination of children through the primary care visit,” Dr. Doohan said. “When children come in, they usually have a schedule of vaccinations. It can include the COVID vaccinations along with other routine vaccinations.”