County health officials encourage public confidence
In its first update in 2021, the UCSB Economic Forecast Project held a Zoom meeting to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution on the community.
Speakers at the virtual meeting were EFP Executive Director Dr. Peter Rupert, County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso and Cottage Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons.
They aimed to instill confidence in people to get the COVID-19 vaccine when they become eligible.
At the start of the Zoom webinar, Dr. Rupert held a poll asking participants whether they would get the vaccine if it were available to them today. Participants could answer “Definitely,” “Probably,” “Probably not” or “Definitely not.”
The results from that poll were: 72% answered that they definitely would get the vaccine; 17% said they probably would; 7% answered they probably would not; and 4% answered that they would definitely not. Dr. Rupert shared that in a nationwide poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 41% of those surveyed answered they would definitely get the vaccine; 30% answered they would probably get it; and 17% answered that they would either probably not get it or definitely would not get it.
Dr. Rupert added that according to the national results, demographics such as registered Republicans, rural residents, black adults and essential workers say they would probably not or will not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This should not be about different races, sex or age,” he said. “We’re starting to see people get more educated and more understanding, but, to me, this is a more serious matter in that … the vaccine should really not be anything about being across different political spectra.”
The UCSB professor also provided a few economic updates, including that jobless claims remain elevated and more stimulus checks have arrived. However, he said the community hasn’t seen the results of the latest lockdown over the holidays yet.
Dr. Do-Reynoso with the Public Health Department updated the participants on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the county. To date, 16,775 doses have been received.
In addition, 4,900 doses were ordered on Thursday, and Public Health anticipates 7,200 doses next week.
“We want to make sure that every time we order vaccines, that our providers are approved providers … and have the capacity to quickly administer those doses and that they’re not sitting in the freezer or refrigerator sequentially,” she said.
Currently, there are 12 providers that are being allocated vaccines from the Public Health Department. As of Tuesday, Dr. Do-Reynoso said 42 approved vaccine providers anticipate being able to distribute new allocations soon.
She noted an important adjustment in direction from the California Department of Public Health. If the county “has done its due diligence in providing vaccines to Tier 1,” it can proceed to tiers 2 and 3.
“Here in Santa Barbara County, we are going through Phase 1A with the three tiers concurrently, because we want to make sure all the vaccines we’ve allocated are getting into arms and not sitting in refrigerators and freezers,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
In addition, Public Health has partnered with retail pharmacies such as Albertsons and Ralphs. The public health director said Santa Barbara County is looking at being able to do mass vaccination sometime in late March or early spring, meaning the general public throughout the county. If Santa Barbara County residents are not in Phase 1A or Phase 1B, they can expect to be vaccinated then.
To achieve herd immunity, Dr. Do-Reynoso said the department has heard that anywhere from 60% to 80% of people must be vaccinated.
Dr. Fitzgibbons with Cottage Health shared an update on hospitalizations in the county.
“Things have clearly escalated with breathtaking speed,” she said.
Dr. Fitzgibbons explained that in these last several days, Cottage Health moved to the border of potentially needing surge beds. She also addressed the “0% ICU capacity” discussion.
“That does not mean if we drop below 0%, that the doors close or that no one else gets into the ICU emergency room,” she said. “What it means is beyond that capacity, we’re going to have to take care of patients with less staff, less resources and possibly less physical beds. Those are the challenges — the buzzword is surge …That’s what we mean.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons said a statistic that is worrisome for her is that currently, around 80% of the patients in Santa Barbara County in the ICU are sick with COVID-19, which is a large increase compared to only a small fraction of COVID-19 patients in the ICU in November.
Moving on to the vaccine, the infectious disease specialist said that it’s important to remember that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines.
This is important because, first of all, no one can catch COVID-19 from this vaccine.
Secondly, with this technology, a person’s own cell takes the mRNA and makes a protein to help the immune system recognize that the virus’s protein (called a spike protein) does not belong there.
“MRNA technology was not invented this year. It’s over a decade in the making,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “It’s new, but not unknown. It’s technology that has been developed, but was waiting for the right disease.”
This is also important because mRNA technology can be modified to address new variants.
To further increase confidence in the vaccine, she also pointed out that side effects turned out to be rare in the clinical trials.
Dr. Fitzgibbons also noted the vaccines are proven to be very protective within 12 days of the first dose and short-term risks are mostly local injection site pain.
She added that severe allergic reactions are very rare.
However, she reminded participants that doctors and the general public don’t know the following: how long the protection from the two doses lasts; whether any late side effects will be seen past the five-month period of what we do know; whether any newer variants will show resistance to the vaccine; or if the vaccine will protect against asymptomatic infection.
Referring to the last point, Dr. Fitzgibbons said, “As we try to bend that curve, we really need to know that before there are any recommendations to stop masking, stop social distancing to stop any other good public health efforts.”
She concluded by saying she encourages everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.