A scheduled appointment structure appeared to go out the window Jan. 20 as hundreds of people, some 75 years and older and others in health care sectors, waited in long lines for COVID-19 vaccinations at Hancock College.
Jan. 20 was the first day doses were offered to the 75-and-up group at Santa Barbara County Public Health point-of-dispensing sites, with doses also being offered by providers like clinics, pharmacies and hospitals.
Several residents who showed up to the site were shocked by the crush of people, which totaled nearly 1,300 over the course of the day.
"I feel like I just got front-row tickets to a big show for The Rolling Stones or something," said Orcutt resident Debi Lee, standing in line with her husband, Russ. "We signed up as soon as we saw the link."
Their appointments were originally scheduled for 11 a.m., but by that time the Lees were still far back in the line, which inched slowly along the sidewalk outside Hancock's Community Education building.
Many were frustrated at the lack of adherence to appointment times at the college. Health care workers and older residents alike could be seen asking site workers where to go in order to make it at their scheduled time, before being told to go to the back of the line and that "appointments don't matter today."
Carol Hatton, 75 and with recent foot surgery, took a break from the line and sought shade under a tree while her husband held their spot. She said there were more people than she was expecting, and that she wished the county had managed appointment times better to reduce wait times.
"It’s not logical. If they would keep to the scheduling, that would have been better," she said, looking out at the line of people standing in the sun. "It's hard on us."
Several elderly people were unable to stand under the sun in the check-in line, which some said took over 45 minutes to get through, and were instead brought past the line to complete their check-in at the vaccination tent.
"Today is a different day," county Disaster Preparedness Manager Jan Koegler said. "We have quite a few people with mobility issues, so we set up tents in the front, and if they need help getting to the vaccination tent, we’ll set up [check-in] over here."
After checking in with site workers and receiving their vaccines in a tent set up outside the community education building, attendees were escorted to a separate tent for 15 minutes of observation, at which point they could schedule their second dose.
The check-in requirements for seniors differed slightly than the requirements for health care workers getting vaccines, according to Koegler.
"For persons 75 and up, we need to have indication of age and also have to have documentation that they are residents of our county. That’s different from people working in our medical facilities, who are from all over the place. We'll vaccinate them as long as they work in our county," she said.
Along with independent seniors who signed up on their own or with the help of family members, Wednesday's group also included residents of assisted living facilities, Koegler said.
Unlike residents and staff at skilled nursing facilities, most of whom have received vaccines through pharmacy partnerships, many assisted living facilities have had to seek out other options like the county sites due to vaccine shortages.
"We're still seeing some smaller care providers bringing their residents," Koegler said.
Despite the straining process, many residents were just happy to be getting the vaccine. Dorothy and Tom Elderling of Orcutt said the site workers checking in and offering water along the way made things better.
"It’s been a long wait, but there were a lot of people staged along the way. Everyone was very compassionate," Dorothy said.
Russ Lee was pleased to see the vaccine already being offered to those 75 and older in Santa Barbara County. His reason for getting the vaccine was straight to the point: "I don't want to die."
County vaccine point-of-dispensing sites also will operate at Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building on Thursday and at Santa Barbara City College on Jan. 26. Another clinic is scheduled for Friday at Hancock College.
All appointments at these sites for residents 75 and older are full at this time, with more appointments to be announced in the near future.
For more information about COVID-19 vaccines or registering for an appointment in Santa Barbara County, call 211 and select option 4, or visit publichealthsbc.org/vaccine.
Residents also can sign up for a newsletter with county vaccine updates at signup.e2ma.net/signup/1937902/1753150/.