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The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, in collaboration with community organizations, distributed 500 vaccines to local agricultural workers during a pilot program at the Santa Maria Health Care Center on Sunday, as officials work to expand care to disadvantaged populations.

Changes are coming to Santa Barbara County's COVID-19 vaccine rollout over the next week, as the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes its way to California and officials implement state guidelines requiring 30% of allocated doses to go toward newly eligible sectors. 

Vaccine allocations are expected to increase in the coming weeks following the federal government's emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, which requires only one dose, provides protection within two weeks and does not require ultra-cold storage. 

California is slated to receive 380,000 doses of the newly approved vaccine, with Santa Barbara County officials still waiting to hear how much they will receive, county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

"This is really, really exciting news that we have this third option … for a convenient, one-dose, easy-to-store, quick-acting vaccine for our providers as well as our community," Do-Reynoso said.

Increased vaccines are needed now more than ever. On March 1, the county opened vaccines to the remainder of Phase 1B, which includes around 61,000 personnel in agriculture, food, education, child care and emergency services.

As of Tuesday, the county had been allocated just over 99,000 total doses, 91% of which have been administered, according to state and county vaccine data. 

Under state guidelines, counties must set aside 30% of their total allocation for the new sectors, including 10% for educators and child care professionals, with the remaining 70% allocated for residents 65 and older. 

"What is different this week is our adherence to state guidelines requiring a 70/30 split," said Do-Reynoso, adding that health-care centers will offer appointments for educators and residents 65 and older, while Public Health sites will handle appointments for the rest of the 1B sector. 

At this time, all upcoming appointments for individuals in Phase 1B have been filled at county public health sites. New appointments for those 65 and older continue to be offered on a rolling basis at local pharmacies, along with Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. 

Lompoc Valley Medical Center will be vaccinating 1,100 individuals in the education sector in the coming days, with Sansum Clinic planning to provide more appointments next week.

Teachers and classified staff working with medically fragile students, such as those who cannot wear masks or require assistance that does not allow for social distancing, are being prioritized for doses at this time, according to Public Health officials.

In the K-8 Santa Maria-Bonita School District — the county's largest — 112 eligible employees will be vaccinated this week, including instructional and health assistants, speech therapists, psychologists, nurses and other staff, district spokeswoman Maggie White said.

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"We have provided certificated and classified employees that work with students in associated programs with information to receive vaccination," Superintendent Luke Ontiveros said.

The Public Health Department also will meet with stakeholders next week to discuss opportunities for vaccination of higher education staff, Do-Reynoso said.

Farmworker vaccines

Along with appointments at Public Health sites, specialized vaccine clinics for the county's agricultural workers will continue over the coming weeks, officials said. 

The Public Health Department offered its first pilot program for 500 farmworkers in Santa Maria in collaboration with local advocacy groups on Sunday.

While it was difficult to register those without email addresses through the state vaccine system, officials said community groups overcame this challenge by handling all the registration and confirmation details themselves.

"It was a roaring success, from my standpoint, and what I am hearing from community members and community partners," Do-Reynoso said.

The county is discussing further opportunities for farmworker pilot programs with local growers and Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher, along with options for mobile vaccination clinics. 

First District Supervisor Das Williams praised the county for organizing the clinic and preventing the ineligible individuals who showed up Sunday from taking any doses.

"I hope that people will think about their actions before they attempt to do that. If you're delivering groceries to your parent, you're not a caregiver. If you're a tech worker in Palmdale, you're not an agricultural worker," Williams said. 

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines in Santa Barbara County, visit publichealthsbc.org/vaccine or call the county hotline at 211.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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