The number of Santa Barbara County residents receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine dipped dramatically mid-April and continues to decline (even despite statewide incentives of a $1.5 million lottery).
Currently, just over half of the county is fully vaccinated, or 59.3% of those eligible.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, predicts the highly contagious Delta variant as well as full FDA approval may play a role in getting more community members inoculated.
She hears of a variety of reasons people haven’t yet received the vaccine.
“There are a large number of younger, healthier adults and adolescents who do not yet feel that the vaccine is necessary or may not feel it’s necessary with any urgency,” she told the News-Press. “COVID-19 may not have impacted their lives to the severity it has impacted others in the community.”
She sees more younger community members currently getting vaccinated at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital’s drive-through vaccination clinic, as older residents have already been inoculated.
“Having said that, we are still vaccinating people of all ages,” she said. “They are coming through the drive-through just as enthusiastically as people in January.”
Those who were previously undecided about the vaccine could’ve been persuaded by the threat of the Delta variant or gained confidence after seeing others go first, she said.
The Delta variant is now the dominant strain in California and across the United States.
“If I had to predict how the next month or so will go, I do worry that we are facing a surge in cases related to the Delta variant moving through the community,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
“We are seeing that total case count start to creep up. But while our case counts have crept up subtly in the past few weeks, the good news is there’s still time,” she said.
She particularly encourages partially vaccinated individuals to receive a second dose — even if many weeks have passed since the first shot.
She notes, though, fewer people are choosing to forego the second dose.
Another recent advancement is the addition of the Community Health Ambassador Program, which educates Spanish-speaking community members to spread accurate information to unreached people.
Santa Barbara County’s Hispanic/Latinx population is 38% fully vaccinated, in comparison to 47% of the white population.
“I think we’re never done trying to find corners of our community that are less vaccinated,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
She points out the racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccination and cases in Los Angeles County. Black individuals are more likely to contract severe COVID-19 cases, according to recent data.
“I think this is just a reminder that any small population within our community that is undervaccinated is vulnerable,” she said.
She is waiting to see if the FDA will approve the Pfizer vaccine for children under the age of 12, which could impact the upcoming school year.
“We know the largest group unvaccinated is children,” she said. “And no one wants children to miss another day of school.”
Cottage Health will be releasing a new video featuring Dr. Fitzgibbons’s research of the Delta variant at cottagehealth.org/coronavirus-covid-19/updates.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 13 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 34,716 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 53 cases are still infectious.
Santa Maria detected six cases. It has a cumulative 11,672 COVID-19 cases of which 13 are active.
Santa Barbara confirmed two cases, bumping its total to 6,529 cases and 14 active cases.
Goleta counted two new cases. It has a total of 1,831 cases of which four are still infectious.
The unincorporated area of the Goleta Valley and Gaviota found one case. It has 1,238 cumulative cases and four active cases.
Lompoc also reported a case. Its new total is 3,859 cases and eight active cases.
Orcutt detected one case, bringing it to a cumulative 1,873 cases of which four are still infectious.
There are nine patients with COVID-19 recovering in Santa Barbara County hospitals, and three of those patients are in critical condition.