Santa Barbara County residents 65 and older and who work in healthcare are currently eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. But supply of the two vaccines authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is limited, making securing an appointment challenging.
“Patience is key,” said Jackie Ruiz, public information officer for the county public health department.
Before you dive in and start trying to make your appointment, it’s important to understand the difference between the various sites and systems in your county.
In Santa Barbara County, the public health department operates large vaccination sites in Santa Barbara, Lompoc and Santa Maria. But only about 20% of the county’s vaccine allocation goes to those sites, Ruiz said. Much more vaccine goes to hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and other settings that are vaccinating people in the highest-priority categories, such as healthcare workers and older people in long-term care facilities.
The county also has an outreach effort with community partners to help vaccinate Latino, Black, Indigenous and other underserved communities, Ruiz said.
If you aren’t able to get your vaccine through your work or where you live, it’s most likely up to you to navigate the various appointment systems run by the county and individual pharmacies, such as those at Vons or Ralphs. CVS has appointments in some places in California — but its vaccine allocation comes from the federal government and is not part of the county’s system.
This is the most up-to-date information available for Santa Barbara County. But changes to who is eligible in California are coming in March. So far, it’s unclear whether California’s new arrangement with Blue Shield will alter how people get vaccinated around the state. Los Angeles County information is here; Orange County information here; Riverside County here; Ventura County here; and San Bernardino County here.
Making your first appointment
Start by going to publichealthsbc.org/vaccine. If you meet current eligibility requirements, click on the button that says, “I am eligible for and want to make an appointment for a vaccine.” There you will see links to the scheduling systems for the various pharmacies and county-run sites.
Because of the limited supply, Santa Barbara County is among several others in California that are prioritizing second doses. You may have to try several of the individual sites over several days or weeks before you secure an appointment.
You can also sign up for email updates about vaccines from the county.
Getting your first shot
Once you’ve secured an appointment for your first dose and it’s time to get your shot, be sure to carefully read any instructions provided when you signed up. In general, you’ll need to bring with you some proof of eligibility. Ruiz said that can be many things, including a photo ID, mail with your address on it, or a library card.
Definitely wear a mask; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends doubling up for a better fit with some styles of masks.
Arrive for your appointment about 15 minutes early. At county-run sites, someone will greet you when you drive in, verify your appointment and direct you where to park. Then you’ll get in line and check in. You’ll answer a few screening questions and then head to the vaccination area.
If you are unable to leave your car, someone will come to you to check you in and give you a shot.
Try smiling when you get your shot — research has shown that it reduces needle pain.
Next, you’ll head to a waiting area for a brief observation period. This is just in case of very rare allergic reactions. You’ll get a CDC vaccination card that indicates which vaccine you received — either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — and when you are due for your second dose. You’ll get a sticker too, Ruiz said — lucky you! — and be on your way.
Pharmacies and other sites may have different procedures.
Getting your second dose
At county-run vaccination sites, you can make your appointment for a second dose right after you receive your first. Each site has QR codes, Ruiz said, which you can scan with a smartphone. That will open a window for you to schedule your second appointment.
If you don’t have a smartphone or would prefer to skip the QR code, you can call the county to schedule your second dose. Call 211 from within Santa Barbara County and follow the prompts. Representatives speak English and Spanish and can get help in other languages if needed.
Ruiz said people who are vaccinated at a pharmacy, workplace or other non-county setting should work within that system to get their second dose.
The timing of your second dose depends on which vaccine you received. For Pfizer, three weeks after the first is the recommended interval. For Moderna, it’s four weeks. If you’re a day or two early or a couple of weeks delayed, that’s OK, according to the CDC.