Santa Barbara Latinx and Hispanic residents, as well as residents of North and Mid-County areas, continue to be vaccinated for COVID-19 at disproportionately low rates, county Public Health officials reported Friday.
As of Friday, Latinx and Hispanic residents have received 20% of total doses despite making up 48% of the population. White individuals have received 32% of administered doses while comprising 43% of the population, according to Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso, who called the trend "concerning."
"There are also similar concerning trends among communities of color. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is committed to working to ensure all residents have access to COVID-19 vaccines," Do-Reynoso said.
Vaccine access inequities also are evident between different regions of the county. According to vaccine data, of the county's 49,026 fully vaccinated individuals, 55% reside in South County, compared to 28% in North County and 17% in Mid-County.
The racial makeup of Santa Maria, the largest city in the North County area, is 76% Hispanic, with an equally large Hispanic demographic in Lompoc, the largest Mid-County city, according to census data.
Meanwhile, Santa Barbara, the largest area in South County, has a much larger white population at 50%, census data shows.
As vaccine efforts have picked up speed over the past weeks, public health officials have announced various concentrated efforts to prevent distribution and access inequities through partnerships with providers and community groups.
A handful of vaccination clinics have been held specifically for agricultural workers and other vulnerable groups, along with other clinics for underserved communities in Santa Maria and Lompoc.
"We have intentionally allocated vaccines to our under-resourced communities and the providers nearby," Do-Reynoso said.
These efforts, however, do not appear to be working, and officials struggled to explain why.
Do-Reynoso said some of the inequity could be explained by a lack of willingness to be vaccinated, as well as a lack of information about where and how to get an appointment, a trend she said is more prominent among communities of color.
"I think some of the barriers are not being aware where they can get a vaccine, not being aware that it is available and they are eligible, and not knowing enough about the vaccine," she said. "We are working with community partners to ramp up information."
County Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg added that misinformation about vaccine safety is widespread on social media, which can also discourage residents from pursuing an appointment.
Racism as a public health crisis
Amid updates about local COVID-19 rates on Friday, Santa Barbara County Public Health leaders also recognized the eight victims of a recent shooting spree across three spas in the Atlanta area, which included six Asian women.
"As Public Health director, and as an Asian-American woman, I am devastated by the senseless loss of lives. This killing spree and other attacks on members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community threaten the health and safety of all members of our community," Do-Reynoso said.
She also called on the community to do their part to support racial equity, and to recognize racism as a public health crisis. A proclamation to that point, co-sponsored by 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, will be shared at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting, she added.
"The Public Health Department will continue to work in partnership with all of you to develop strategies to address and dismantle racism and bias that's fueling these attacks and other hate crimes so we can build a more just, equitable and healthy county for all," she said.
Daily COVID-19 cases
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 43 new COVID-19 cases and one death from the illness on Friday.
According to county public health data, 32,798 total cases have now been confirmed, and 195 cases remain active.
The death announced Friday was of a Lompoc resident over the age of 70. Confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the county now total 435, according to county data.
Thirty-eight individuals are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, including 15 individuals in the intensive care unit.
In Santa Maria, 57 out of 11,067 total cases remain active and 151 individuals have died.
In Orcutt, six out of 1,728 total cases remain active and 28 individuals have died.
In Lompoc, 36 out of 3,453 total cases remain active and 53 individuals have died.
In the Santa Ynez Valley area of Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Santa Ynez and Ballard, seven out of 977 total cases remain active and 17 individuals have died.
In the North County area of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and Guadalupe, six out of 1,257 total cases remain active and 22 individuals have died.
In neighboring San Luis Obispo County, public health officials reported 17 new cases on Friday and no new deaths.
According to county public health data, 222 cases remain active out of 20,189 total confirmed cases.
As of Friday, 253 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed in the county.