Editor’s note: This concludes a series on the medical community’s comments about COVID-19.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, says he doesn’t know when the indoor mask mandate will end.
“It’s very clear that the vaccination alone is not enough,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press. “We’ve seen that in England, where there’s a good vaccination percentage when they dropped the mask mandate.”
Dr. Ansorg said masks are especially important in protecting the most vulnerable segments of the population. He said breakthrough COVID-19 cases have been seen in the 65-and-older population that is vaccinated.
“When we age, our immune system is not as strong as a 20-year-old’s,” Dr. Ansorg said. “After vaccination, we don’t get such a good response as a young person. For a lot of the elderly people who got vaccinated in January or February, six months later, the antibody count goes down. That’s why we’re seeing breakthrough cases.”
Factors such as the delta variant have made indoor masks necessary even for vaccinated individuals, Dr. Ansorg said.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, chair of the Cottage Health infectious diseases division, agreed that indoor masks “are critically important.
“I know they reduce transmission,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has spelled out who’s eligible for booster shots.
People who received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster shots are eligible for booster shots if they’re 65 and older, are 18 and older in congregate care or are 18 and older and have underlying medical conditions. Anyone 18 and older who works or lives in high-risk settings can get booster shots as well.
Boosters are available for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen if people are 18 and older. People must wait at least two months.
Dr. Charles Fenzi, CEO and chief medical officer of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, elaborated further.
“We’re ramping up to do the boosters for those who deserve it,” he said, referring to the older population, people with immune deficiencies or those who face exposure because of their work environment. “Teachers, folks working in the retail industry who come into contact with the public, grocery workers, etc. Certainly healthcare workers.”
Dr. Fenzi added he wouldn’t be surprised if boosters aren’t eventually just given to everyone who has received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Ansorg stressed the importance of boosters for the 65-and-older population. “That’s generally where the immune response wades. It’s important for those people to get the boosters to get through the winter season, to increase the power of the immune system to fight against the virus.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons of Cottage Health agreed that boosters are necessary.
“Going into winter, we need to keep an eye on it locally and nationally,” she said. “What we know is that vaccine protection wanes and boosters are beneficial.”
When asked if there’s a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Dr. Ansorg said, “If the virus keeps changing, if it keeps evading the immune system, if we continue to have such a high percentage of people not getting vaccinated, then I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We will have to learn to live with it, like we live with other viruses such as shingles, herpes or hepatitis,” Dr. Ansorg said. “Hopefully we will get more potent medications to treat people who fall ill with COVID. I don’t anticipate us getting out of the pandemic in the near future, unfortunately.”