As of 6 pm. On Wednesday, Jan. 13, there are 11,275 cases of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, including 111 deaths and 8,375 recovered cases.

COVID-19 vaccination efforts are ramping up in Santa Cruz County. After receiving its first shipment on Dec. 15, the county continues to receive more as it begins inoculation. The county currently has about 11,000 doses available, and 5,316 individuals vaccinated as of Wednesday morning. 

While county officials were “scrambling” early on to set up vaccination clinics and identify professionals who can administer vaccines, County Communications Manager Jason Hoppin said the process is now speeding up. Hoppin pointed to new federal and state funding, as well as a shipment of 6,000 doses received Monday night, as evidence of this.

“[We] don’t want to make any commitments, [but] things are moving more quickly than we anticipated,” said Hoppin. “We went from working with 2,000 vaccines per week to 6,000 per week. I hope that will continue.” 

Santa Cruz Vaccination Phases
Graphic by Ry X.

The distribution guideline, outlined by the California Department of Public Health, is organized in a five phase plan. Santa Cruz County is currently in Phase 1A. Hoppin anticipates the 14,700 individuals in this phase, mostly health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities, will receive their first dose by the end of January.

The county is working toward administering the first dose to as many people as possible, including Phase 1B, rather than saving vaccinations for booster shots. Hoppin is confident enough vaccinations will be received to administer second doses on schedule.

Phase 1B, which includes service workers and people over the age of 65, is projected to begin by early February. The general public won’t have access to the vaccine until Phase 2, which local health officials hope will begin by spring.

Former Watsonville Community Hospital nurse and current nursing educator Jennifer Holm said that nurses are feeling reassured by the vaccination rollout.

“The overwhelming feedback I’m hearing is that nurses are relieved. It’s one more layer of protection,” Holm said. “It’s still important to have PPE, but it is one more layer where they can feel safe doing their jobs.”

Health care workers at Dominican Hospital and Watsonville Community Hospital began receiving the first round of vaccinations on Dec. 15, and started receiving the second dose last week, said Holm. 

As the county increases its vaccine supply, UC Santa Cruz received its first doses of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 12. The university gets the vaccine from a multicounty entity called UC Health, from whom each college requests a specific number of vaccines. With the 200 doses UCSC requested, the Student Health Center will inoculate those in the Phase 1A category. Student health staff, Molecular Diagnostic Lab staff, and COVID test site workers will be the first groups to receive the vaccine. Other students won’t have the opportunity to receive the vaccine until Phase 2. 

With the speed at which the vaccine was produced, there have been worries about its efficacy. Rebecca Dubois, a professor at UCSC who has studied infectious diseases for 20 years and runs a lab at the forefront of vaccine research, dispelled concerns about the new mRNA technology.

“The reason why [mRNA] were the first vaccines to get started with is because it could be made so much faster,” said Dubois. “The term [Operation Warp Speed] gives the concern that corners were cut. And that is definitely not the case. The vaccines were tested fully in clinical trials as you would do for something that wasn’t urgent.”

Even though the vaccine can reduce the chances of contracting COVID-19 by 95 percent, health care officials encourage those vaccinated to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Health officials recommend those who have previously contracted COVID-19 get vaccinated as well. 

The vaccines are administered through two shots, given roughly one month apart. Both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines, a new vaccine technology. In typical vaccines, a patient receives the virus antigen through a shot, which trains our immune system to detect and fight the virus. With mRNA, or messenger RNA, the patient essentially gets a code which is read by the immune system. Then the immune system creates the antigen of the virus and develops a response to it.

Operation Warp Speed is the federal government’s initiative to develop, manufacture, and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There is some evidence from the vaccine trials that the vaccine might induce slightly better protection,” said Dubois. “Just because you maybe had COVID-19 doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get the vaccine.” 

With the additional supplies received by the state, county health officials hope the vaccination timeline will accelerate. County Communications Manager Jason Hoppin said Phase 1B was projected to begin in early February but may move up if this trend of additional supplies continues. 

Hoppin also expressed cautious optimism, reiterating the unprecedented nature of the process, saying, “we’re flying the plane and building it at the same time.”