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Some Santa Barbara County residents face long waits for second vaccine appointments

Some Santa Barbara County residents face long waits for second vaccine appointments

Some Santa Barbara County residents may have to wait up to six weeks for a second COVID-19 vaccine dose following their initial appointment, with overwhelmed call centers unable to provide much information in the meantime.

The Centers for Disease Control state that second vaccine doses should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible, within 21 days for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for Moderna. However, if delays are imminent, a second dose can still be reliably administered within 42 days, or six weeks.

While most second-dose appointments are made at the time of the first appointment, some providers will ask individuals to wait for a call to schedule it, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said. During the waiting period, some might not hear back until after the recommended wait time.

Recent delays in Moderna shipments due to severe weather, for example, did delay some second appointments past the three or four week timeline, he said. 

"It is not unsafe to postpone the second vaccine up to six weeks," Ansorg said. 

As of Friday, over 55,000 county residents had received a first dose of the vaccine, with a little less than half, around 27,300 residents, also receiving a second dose, according to county vaccine data.

The majority of residents that have received a first and second dose, around 54%, live in South County. Around 27% live in North County, and 18% live in Central County, which includes Lompoc and the Santa Ynez Valley, according to county data.

Under federal guidelines, providers must administer vaccines within a few days of receipt, and vaccine cannot be held for eventual use as second doses. For this reason, some providers will use most of their weekly allocation as first doses if there is a small number of second dose appointments coming up.

While the process of getting a second dose is theoretically less difficult than accessing the first, as the burden of organizing the second appointment falls on the provider, residents who do encounter issues are finding that it's nearly impossible to reach someone for assistance.

Waiting to be contacted

When 80-year-old Marlene Bigger received her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in mid-January, she was told to await a call from Marian Regional Medical Center to schedule her second dose in about four weeks.

Six weeks later, Bigger and her daughter Kelli Bigger grew desperate, as she had yet to be contacted for the appointment and attempts to get information via county and hospital hotlines had been unsuccessful. 

After being contacted by the Santa Maria Times about the situation, the hospital reached out to Bigger on Thursday. However, as of Friday, an appointment had not been scheduled, Kelli said. 

"She’s 80, you gave her this shot in good faith and said, 'in four weeks we’re gonna contact you,'" Kelli said. "Thank god my mom is fairly healthy. I just wonder how many other people are going through this."

Marian Regional spokeswoman Sara San Juan said the hospital, whose dose allocations from both the state and county make it one of the area's main vaccine providers, has only encountered two instances of patients struggling to make a second appointment due to "special circumstances." 

"In our ongoing efforts to vaccinate thousands of Santa Barbara County residents along with managing patient care, Marian Regional Medical Center recognizes that there may be occasional limitations to our outreach. Our hospital communicates to patients in a timely manner and provides vaccinations within the appropriate timeframe," San Juan said.

Other residents have also grown anxious after not being contacted for a second appointment until the very end of their interim period, wondering if they have been forgotten by the provider.

One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said she did not hear back about a second appointment from Marian until the very end of her three-week interim period.

When she was reached for an appointment, she said she was told by a staffer at the call center that only 10 individuals had been present to call and organize over 3,600 appointments, making it difficult to contact everyone as scheduled.

The Public Health Department has asked that residents awaiting their second appointment be as patient as possible. While officials said last month they intended to nearly double the county call center staff of 12, Do-Reynoso said that number has not changed as of Friday. The center receives 600 daily calls on average.

However, Do-Reynoso encouraged those with concerns about getting their second appointment as they draw closer to the six-week mark following their first dose, to contact the hotline by calling 211. 

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines in Santa Barbara County, visit publichealthsbc.org/vaccine.

Coronavirus: Impact, response to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories.

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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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