Mandates, higher vaccination rates seen as likely
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 in individuals 16 and older.
Santa Barbara County’s medical experts are hopeful the full approval, as opposed to the emergency-use authorization, will encourage more community members to trust the vaccine.
Just over three in 10 (31%) of unvaccinated respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey said they’d be more likely to get vaccinated if the FDA granted full approval.
“If I can count on 30% of the unvaccinated. . . roughly 42,000 people, if I can count on those 42,000 to get vaccinated, that would move the needle in a very big way,” Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the Santa Barbara County public health director, told the News-Press Monday.
Current case rates mirror July 2020, even with 54.2% of the county’s population fully vaccinated.
“I think the timing of this approval is wonderful because we are seeing a crisis again evolve before our very eyes, and we have very limited time to blunt the wave of the delta variant before it crashes down on our community,” said Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease specialist with Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic.
The Santa Barbara community has started to see a rise in vaccination requirements, even in the county’s community colleges. Many predict more mandates are to come following the FDA’s approval — including a requirement within the U.S. military.
The Pentagon will soon require service members to receive COVID-19 vaccination, press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday. A timeline will be released soon.
“I think vaccines are the only way we’re going to get past this pandemic,” Dr. Charles Fenzi, CEO and chief medical officer of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, told the News-Press. “I think people who have a job and work in a large enough organization are going to find themselves in a position where they have to get vaccinated or work somewhere else.”
“I think we’ll see more employers mandate the vaccine,” Dr. Fisk said. “Having a vaccinated workforce makes it safer for everyone in the workforce, and it also makes it safer for the extremely rare medical cases that can’t get vaccinated.”
Employees with vaccine-activated immunity are less likely to need time off from work to fight the virus as well.
People with some underlying medical conditions are unable to get the vaccine, per discussions with a healthcare provider.
Some long for the protection of the vaccine but are unable to receive it, instead relying on those around them to keep them safe.
Children under the age of 12 are not currently eligible to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines, but trials are looking at the safety and effectiveness in this age group.
Full approval allows doctors to administer the vaccine “off label,” Dr. Fisk said, meaning they could potentially use the vaccines in other ages with compelling reason. He isn’t advocating for this route, and he doesn’t know if physicians will take it.
Dr. Fenzi said the approval will make his job “a little easier” talking to people about the vaccine.
He spends a lot of time explaining the production of vaccines and finds hesitancy across demographics, though he has seen especially resistant communities.
Dr. Do-Reynoso has talked with acquaintances and friends about their concerns. She gently corrects accusations that the COVID-19 vaccinations cause infertility, change DNA, cause death or are experimental.
“This is really personal for me. I’ve heard quite a few extremely tragic accounts from my family and friends,” she said.
Many of her loved ones are coping with loss as a result of COVID-19, and she has heard heartbreaking stories nationwide.
“As more and more people come to know people who are among those who are hospitalized, they think they better get this done,” Dr. Fenzi said.
He noticed an uptick this past week in the number of patients getting their first COVID-19 shots.
The county has the capacity for more patients to receive their doses, without needing additional clinics, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.