The first batches of COVID-19 vaccines are given mainly to healthcare professionals, but a large group of community members may start accessing next week: people over 65.
Santa Barbara County follows the phased vaccine distribution system in California and is on top of completing the first priority groups of health care workers, emergency medical personnel and staff, and residents of long-term care facilities as qualified nursing homes.
“We expect to redouble our deck hands this week so we can complete Phase 1a,” Public Health Director Van Do Reynoso told the Board of Supervisors this week.
Residents over the age of 75 are the next eligible group, but the state decided this week to extend that to everyone aged 65 and over.
This is a much larger group and it is much earlier than the public health department expected, Do-Reynoso told Noozhawk on Wednesday.
“The age will come before the main workers (when the vaccine is distributed), unless you have already registered them and made appointments,”
“Here is who appears in our hospitals and the one who unfortunately suffers very badly to fatal results.”
So far, eligible people have been found in a top-down approach through their employers or in the facilities in which they live.
For future groups, the county will need to work with health care providers and community groups to let people know they qualify and tell them how to make vaccination appointments for both doses.
A worker at Lompoc Valley Medical Center holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo of Lompoc Valley Medical Center)
The county plans to offer online registration for appointments, have direct contact with eligible people through health care providers, and use call centers.
“Call centers 2-1-1 will be able to register appointments and this includes people who do not have access to online platforms or who do not have access to them linguistically,” she said.
When access is open to all adults, which is expected “sometime this spring,” the county plans to set up mass vaccination clinics and information campaigns to spread the word, she said.
There will likely be mobility sites, passage sites and county-only meeting sites and mobile vaccination clinics to serve people who do not have access to the main sites.
The public health department is already looking for partners in the local health system for staff to service these mass vaccination sites.
“In order to vaccinate our county en masse, we cannot be the only ones; it has to be everyone, ”Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso stressed that the vaccine distribution process is dynamic and that political decisions come from the state and federal governments every day.
There is a vaccine information website in the county at https://publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/.
Vaccine distribution levels and schedule
The county wants and receives a vaccine order every week and detains some to vaccinate people through its clinics. It distributes most doses to a network of vaccine providers: hospitals, public clinics, medical offices and retail pharmacies.
The state and county use a priority system of phases and levels because supplies are limited.
(Photo by Santa Barbara County Public Health Department)
It is based on the idea of making the first vaccinations of people who are likely to be exposed to the virus in the workplace (key workers, including those in the health sector) and people who are likely to become seriously ill (those who are older people and people with serious medical conditions).
The idea was to complete one level at a time and move on to the next.
However, this system creates bottlenecks, as hospitals and clinics are left with additional doses and there are no authorized people to give them to.
California opened it this week and created a larger set of eligible people, and the county expects faster vaccinations as a result.
“I think because of the strict system of levels, we’ve been struggling for a while,” Do-Reynoso said.
California authorities decided on Wednesday that instead of vaccinating residents aged 75 and over in the next group, they should be aged 65 and over – a much larger number of eligible people.
The direction of use of each dose also leads to situations in which some suppliers are ahead of others.
Lompoc Valley Medical Center announced Wednesday that it will vaccinate some of its own patients aged 75 or over. The center has already vaccinated all of its staff and vendors targeted at patients, and has had additional doses to use, Do-Reynoso said.
Do-Reynoso acknowledged that the public health department had not been informed that the LVMC would announce the move and said it would be good to coordinate it better.
The county receives many phone calls from elderly adults who say it is most unfair to non-Lompoc residents, she said.
“So what we’re saying is that at the moment, what Lompoc is doing can be interpreted as the best use of the vaccine that’s been given to them,” she said. “We don’t want it to run out in the fridge or get lost.
“For those who are unfortunately not in the health network, who are 75 years old, the Public Health Department will probably be expanded to 75-year-olds next week.”
At present, patient-oriented healthcare professionals are eligible for the vaccine and can register for appointments through the county’s website here.
“Currently, people who provide direct patient care or work in patient care areas are eligible,” not people working from home, according to the county.
(Photo by Santa Barbara County Public Health Department)
Cottage Health hosts a vaccine clinic at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital for suitable healthcare professionals who live or work in Santa Barbara County on Friday and Saturday. The website has more information and a pre-registration form.
According to the current schedule, people aged 65 and over are expected to be eligible from next week.
In February and March, this will be extended to people at risk of exposure to work in areas including:
»Food / groceries and agriculture
“Transport and Logistics
»Industrial, commercial, residential and shelter facilities and services
»Joint establishment of shelters and detention centers
Then there are people over the age of 60 and people with concomitant health conditions or disabilities who increase the risk of severe COVID-19 if infected.
Also those who are at risk of exposure to work in the following sectors:
»Water and wastewater
»Chemical and hazardous materials
»Communications and IT
»Government operations / main community-based functions
As Do-Reynoso said, the county expects to open mass vaccination clinics sometime this spring.
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