Some CenCal Health members may soon receive text messages directing them to nearby COVID-19 vaccination locations that offer walk-in service, informational postcard mailers and $50 gift card incentives that encourage those unvaccinated members to get their shots.

The organization, which serves as the Medi-Cal health plan for both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, announced its intention on Nov. 10 to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine campaign to its unvaccinated membership in an effort to increase lower-than-average inoculation numbers among its nearly 210,000 members primarily comprised of children, families and seniors with low income. Primary care providers in the CenCal Health network who administer the first shots also are rewarded, officials said.

According to the California Department of Health Care Services, CenCal Health’s membership vaccination rate is 20-24% points lower than the general populations of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. 

“The majority of our members who are unvaccinated are 5 to 17 years old," explained Karen L. Hord, CenCal Health deputy chief medical officer. "The COVID-19 vaccine is now approved for these ages, however, parental permission is required. We are increasing vaccination opportunities for our young families, including weekend access through providers, and at pop-up clinics in convenient neighborhood locations with hours that work for working parents.”

Implementation of the multistrategy initiative is part of a statewide Vaccination Response Program developed by the California Department of Health Care Services which seeks to to fully vaccinate members who are not vaccinated or received only one dose due to vaccine hesitancy, lack of transportation or a disability that keeps them homebound, officials said.

Further, COVID-19 and vaccine inequity are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be disproportionately found in disadvantaged populations where factors such as education, income, and racial and ethnic disparity pose a higher health risk.

Additional resources in both English and Spanish can be accessed at whyIshould.org and porquedeberia.org.

Lisa André covers lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record, editions of the Santa Maria Times.

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