In an effort to address questions on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout on the local level, health officials hosted a town hall Thursday evening to update the public on distribution.
The town hall, organized by Assemblymember Steve Bennett, and state Sen. Monique Limón, included Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso and Ventura Health Care Agency Chief Deputy Director Barry Zimmerman. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, joined to pose frequently asked questions from their constituencies to the health officials.
Dr. Do-Reynoso announced that the new statewide vaccination distribution standard will be implemented by mid-February. Blue Shield of California will be the third-party administrator tasked with allocating and distributing vaccines.
This removes the local health departments from the coordination. Instead, they’ll be tasked with reaching out to vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, the mentally ill, substance abuse users and illegal immigrants to ensure their vaccination.
MyTurn, the application that will allow for local residents to determine their vaccine eligibility and find a vaccination site, is also aimed to launch in mid-February.
Dr. Do-Reynoso clarified that Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital are the two hospitals in the county providing both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while Lompoc Valley Medical Center and every other provider is only offering Moderna vaccines.
As of Thursday evening, she said, “Of the vaccines Santa Barbara County has received, collectively, we have administered 71% of the vaccines that we have received and that is a really astounding number and achievement that we’ve been able to do so quickly.”
She added that the county is focusing solely on the most vulnerable segments of the community to get vaccinated first, which is still currently individuals ages 75 and older.
Although other counties and regions have started vaccinating individuals 65 and above, Dr. Do-Reynoso said that until the county receives more vaccine doses, it cannot begin vaccinating that age group.
“We will vaccinate the 65 and above when the state sends us more vaccines,” she said. “We are ready. Our infrastructure is ready and so are our partners.
“Our epidemiology analysis has indicated that it is the 75 and above and the healthcare workers who are most vulnerable for infection.”
However, she did say that she is hopeful about the next three to four weeks, and she predicted a surge in vaccine availability as the state transitions to the new age-based rollout plan.
Regarding second doses, the health officials simply advised the public to be patient.
“We did not receive a like-to-like allotment of first dose and second dose, nor do we have planning information to say that the second doses are coming, so we’re doing our best to balance that out,” Mr. Zimmerman said, as this holds true for both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
He added that it was “impractical” to try to set up a system that allows individuals receiving their first dose of COVID vaccine to simultaneously schedule their second dose at that appointment, due to lack of supply and information about future supply.
“At some point, more vaccine is needed to complete the series and also to begin new vaccinations for new people in the community,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Rep. Carbajal spoke to vaccine availability as well, and the federal government’s role in it.
“The outgoing administration made some statements of the availability of vaccine quantities,” he said. “As this new administration has come in, they found that, indeed, there wasn’t the quantity of vaccines available that was promised to states, and now it’s rippling down to our local communities.
“They’re doing the best they can, but they came into a bad situation, and they’re trying to produce it and get it out as soon as possible. This is a problem that is trying to be addressed at the federal level so we can get vaccines out to state and local communities.”
County residents are encouraged to monitor publichealthsbc.org for continuous updates and announcements.