Pharmacies give out vaccines to ineligible residents
A slight loophole has allowed for pharmacies to divvy out leftover COVID-19 vaccines to, seemingly, whoever asks or knows the right people.
In the mad rush to vaccinate as many people in Santa Barbara County as possible, more than 170,000 doses had been administered as of Thursday.
In addition, according to County Public Health’s spokeswoman, Jackie Ruiz, the county will begin welcoming residents ages 16 and older to get vaccinated before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s set date of April 15.
However, because of the sheer volume of appointments being made, cancellations are inevitable, and some pharmacies have been giving the extra shots to any resident who calls at the end of the day and asks for one. The doses must be administered within hours once they’re removed from storage, so the extra doses would end up in the trash bin if they’re not administered.
“Of course, we do encourage anyone providing vaccines not to waste,” Ms. Ruiz told the News-Press. “They’re asked to stay within the guidelines as much as possible. We do realize, even at our own sites, sometimes you really only have 30 minutes to use up the doses.”
She said that calling pharmacies at the end of the day is “not an official recommendation of the Public Health Department.”
“The language the state and the federal government uses kind of allows for that leeway whenever there’s a possibility the vaccine will go to waste otherwise,” Ms. Ruiz said.
This loophole has the potential to allow ineligible residents who can make it to the pharmacy within 30 minutes of a phone call to cut the line ahead of eligible residents who are still stuck on waitlists. But, if eligible residents cannot make it within the time frame necessary to administer safely, the next available people will be called and potentially vaccinated ahead of schedule.
“The concern has definitely been raised by community members … Many times, people can’t get there within 30 minutes,” Ms. Ruiz said. “As far as I know, that’s what’s happening … We do everything we can to try and get folks who are eligible vaccinated and then, if that is not possible, we look at other solutions so the vaccine does not go to waste.”
At Public Health vaccine sites, the no-show rate is “very low” according to Ms. Ruiz. It depends on the day, but the no-show rate is typically between 3% and 10%, and tends to be on the lower end.
There’s no official study or evidence yet of why cancellations are made, but the spokesperson said many can be attributed to simple schedule changes or date mix-ups.
“I have heard some preferences to folks asking for a particular vaccine, not really willing to sign up for the clinic if it’s not the vaccine they’re looking for … One of the most common questions we get from our call center is asking for the J&J vaccine,” she said.
The county doesn’t have control over which brand of vaccine is allotted to them, but health officials have been urging residents to take whichever vaccine is first available to them.
A vaccine management team is present at each county clinic to make the decision on whether or not to open additional vials throughout the entire day. If extras are present, they call residents in the immediate area.
Ms. Ruiz said that sometimes, a spouse will come with someone who’s getting vaccinated and mention that they are also eligible but haven’t made an appointment. In those cases, she said a waitlist is occasionally created there and those spouses may get one of the extra doses. She made sure to mention that it is not the case at every single clinic but it is happening in Santa Barbara County.
“I want to be transparent. If there is some possibility that there will be vaccines at the end of the day, those folks are called to see if they can come and take those doses. We’re very mindful of the criteria. A good chunk of the time, it’s folks that are actually eligible but just don’t have an appointment,” she said.
Ms. Ruiz said that residents should understand that these situations are not something they are able to accommodate every time, and Public Health highly encourages people to make appointments to ensure a vaccine is available for them.
She said, “There’s a lot of details to this whole operation, and frankly, it’s going to be really amazing when we can invite all community members to get a vaccine, so we’re looking forward to the transition.”
Visit vaccinateca.com/counties/santa_barbara.html to see which local pharmacies are giving out vaccines.