Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons sees reason for hope as efforts grow to vaccinate people against COVID-19.
“I am confident that in the coming weeks, this surge will start to subside,” the Cottage Health infectious disease specialist told the News-Press Wednesday. “I don’t know when that will be, but I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons sounded the positive note as Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic administer vaccinations throughout the community.
Cottage Health will vaccinate healthcare workers — they don’t have to be Cottage Health employees — during a drive-up clinic Friday and Saturday. The event is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both days at the parking lot at Hollister and Patterson in Goleta. It’s across the street from Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, and the vaccine is the Moderna product.
Appointments are required and must be made in advance at www.cottagehealth.org/covid19.
The vaccinations will be for healthcare workers who meet the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department list under Phase 1A — Tiers 1, 2 and 3.
These include people who work at acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. The list also includes paramedics and EMTs.
Also eligible are people who work at emergency medical services, dialysis centers, home health care and in-home supportive services, primary care clinics, urgent care clinics and specialty clinics. The list also includes community health workers such as promotoras, laboratory workers, dental and other oral health clinics, and pharmacy staff.
Dr. Fitzgibbons said Cottage Health hopes that the drive-up event will help small clinics that don’t have access to the vaccines.
Cottage Health is setting up an elaborate tent in which motorists will drive up. No one will get out of their car, and retired nurses and physicians are helping with the vaccinations.
The event comes at a time when the state has been criticized for a slow rollout of the vaccines, but Dr. Fitzgibbons said she has been encouraged by efforts in Santa Barbara County.
“We’re actually doing very well, relative to other communities,” she said. “As this gets going, the percentage is going to improve.
“In Santa Barbara County, we’ve been ahead of the curve, but we aren’t exactly where I think we need to be,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties are trying to boost vaccinations with massive events at Dodgers Stadium, Disneyland and Petco Park, respectively.
That raises the question of whether similar events should be held at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Fairpark.
Dr. Kurt Ransohoff, CEO and chief medical officer of Sansum Clinic, said he could see some benefit from using sites such as ballrooms in large hotels. He told the News-Press this week that large-scale events would help to get a high percentage of the population vaccinated.
“Let’s talk about southern Santa Barbara County; 250,000 people live there,” Dr. Ransohoff said. “Let’s say 70% want to get vaccinated. That’s like 180,000 people. To get those kinds of numbers, we’re going to need larger-scale vaccinations than we have going on right now.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons said big clinic efforts will go a long way toward vaccinating the community, but added, “I don’t think one size necessarily fits all for a community like Santa Barbara.”
“We also need to get vaccines to primary care physician offices and our congregate living settings,” she said.
Congregate living environments include skilled nursing facilities.
Dr. Ransohoff noted Sansum Clinic is helping with vaccinations beyond its own staff.
“The Public Health Department needed help vaccinating other members of the community,” he said. “We have vaccinated about 500 healthcare workers who do not work for Sansum Clinic. Some work for our competitors. They didn’t have access to vaccines, but we did, so we’ve been helping to get them vaccinated.”
Dr. Ransohoff said Sansum Clinic has been using Moderna vaccines, but has one -90 Fahrenheit freezer for the Pfizer vaccines. (Moderna doesn’t need to be in that freezer.)
“We’ve ordered another freezer,” Dr. Ransohoff said. “You’ll not be surprised to hear there’s a backlog in getting that ordered.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons said she’s optimistic that everyone who wants a vaccine will get one by this summer.
“The bigger challenge is making sure our community is as protected as it can be,” she said. “That’s making sure people who are yearning for more information about the vaccine have access to it.”
She noted that available data shows the vaccines remain a good match for the recent COVID-19 variants that originated in Britain and South Africa.
Dr. Fitzgibbons said the latest estimates show herd immunity could be achieved when 70 or 80% or more of the population is vaccinated. But she noted any increase in the vaccinated population benefits the community.
Experts have said vaccinated people should still wear masks, stay six feet from others and wash their hands frequently. While the vaccines protect people from getting sick, they haven’t been shown yet to prevent people from carrying COVID-19 and infecting others.