COVID Dashboard: Expect the new Omicron-targeting boosters in late September

A man receives a COVID booster shot at a drive through clinic
(Aegis Living)
An graphic image for the Lookout COVID Dashboard

News of the week

Just a couple of months away from the one-year anniversary of Omicron’s emergence, we’ll finally be getting a jab targeting the ultra-contagious variant and its offshoots.

Pfizer’s updated vaccine — which will target both the original COVID strain and the Omicron BA.5 subvariant — is set to be available within weeks, with the Moderna option likely to follow sometime in October.

Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Ghilarducci said that late September is the current best estimate for when the county would receive the vaccines. Given the vaccine infrastructure built over the pandemic, large immunization clinics won’t be the primary means of delivery.

“We now have a pretty good system for distributing COVID vaccines now, so there’s unlikely to be widespread local clinics,” said Ghilarducci. “Your healthcare provider and local drug stores will remain the best options.”

The demographics eligible for the shots differ from previous COVID vaccines. In order to receive the updated jab, you must have completed a primary series with the already available COVID vaccines. As of Monday, 82.2% of county residents have received at least one dose, with 76% having received a full primary series. That compares to national totals of 83.7% and 71.5% respectively.

Ghilarducci emphasizes the point that those at high risk for severe illness and death from COVID who have yet to get any boosters should get the currently available boosters as soon as possible.

“Today’s boosters, though less effective in preventing you from catching COVID, are still very good at keeping you alive and out of the hospital,” he said, adding that those that receive the currently available boosters in the near future would likely be eligible for the updated shot four months later. “If it were me, and at high risk for serious illness, I would get it even if it’s not the newest booster out there.”

As for ages, the guidelines are largely the same as for previous rollouts, with a few caveats. For the Pfizer jab, the entire group of vaccinated people ages 12 and older will be eligible. When Moderna’s shot hits the pharmacies, it will have a slightly smaller eligibility range to begin, starting with vaccinated people ages 18 and older.

Locally, cases continue to drop. Santa Cruz County recorded 1,303 active cases on Monday, 546 fewer than two weeks ago. No new deaths have been reported locally, with the county pandemic total remaining at 268.

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An updated vaccine to specifically target Omicron, its subvariants, and the original strain will be available this fall. As of now, the jab will likely be available locally in late September.

Santa Cruz County’s three test-to-treat locations are still up and running. Click here to find the closest location. Currently, Paxlovid is the available medication, showing a 89% reduction in hospitalization and death, and it must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms to be effective.

Vaccinations and precautions are still strongly recommended.

The easiest way to schedule an appointment for second boosters is at local pharmacies including Rite-Aid, CVS and Walgreens.

Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health are still administering second boosters to eligible recipients.

Check our links below for quick access to the relevant websites.

Masking rules

Neither the state of California nor Santa Cruz County currently requires indoor masking. For county public schools, as of March 11, masks are optional though highly recommended.

As of April 10, masks are not required for most indoor settings at UC Santa Cruz facilities, though highly recommended. Masks will still be required for on-campus public transportation, in the Early Education Services centers, and in clinical settings.

On April 19, Santa Cruz Metro lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated passengers, following a federal judge’s ruling that mask mandates are not required on public transportation.

The latest numbers

How does Santa Cruz compare to California and the U.S. in vaccinations? Where are the most current COVID cases in the county, and how does that compare to population? Here is the most recent data.

As of Monday, there were 1,303 active cases logged by Santa Cruz County’s Health Services Agency. This does not include unreported rapid tests taken at home, so this number is not exact.

The pandemic death toll remained at 268.

Wastewater Data as of Sept. 27
(Via California Department of Public Health)

Where can I find a vaccine?

At this point, vaccines are widely available across the county. They are free for everyone, whether insured or not.

As of March 31, second booster shots are available to people aged 50 and older as well as people 12 and older who are immunocompromised or who have received Johnson & Johnson as their primary series and booster doses.

Rite-Aid, CVS, Horsnyder Pharmacy, Westside Pharmacy and Walgreens are currently offering second boosters.

Those wanting to get the shot through their primary care provider should check the company’s website, as availability may vary.

Health care providers

You can schedule appointments for initial doses and booster shots. Below are the local health care providers that offer the vaccine.

Kaiser Permanente
866-454-8855
Sutter/Palo Alto Medical Foundation
844-987-6115
Dignity Health
831-288-6526
CruzMedMo
831-241-7501
Emeline Health Center
831-454-4100

Drugstores and supermarkets

Most pharmacies in the county have COVID-19 vaccines appointments available well into the future. Click the pharmacy of your choice to schedule an appointment.

Safeway
Rite-Aid
CVS
Walgreens
Costco
Horsnyder Pharmacy & Medical Supply
Westside Pharmacy

Getting tested

The sites below offer free PCR tests via LHI.care. Turnaround is typically three to five days.

Mountain Community Resources
6134 Hwy. 9, Felton
Depot Freight Building
119 Center St., Santa Cruz
Watsonville Testing Site
500 Westridge Dr., Watsonville

The table below lists additional testing resources in Santa Cruz County. However, almost all require appointments.