Santa Monica residents have consistently surpassed county and national averages for Covid-19 vaccinations but rates among the local workforce are lagging behind.

According to the County Department of Public Health, 81 percent of Santa Monica residents have had at least one dose of a vaccine. Statewide, about 65 percent of Californians have had at least one dose and the nation recently reached 70 percent.

However, several sections of the Santa Monica economy and workforce have significantly lower vaccination rates.

In a virtual town hall this week, Interim Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said SMPD’s vaccination rate is about 55 percent.

“Consistent with what you see in the county, about 50-55 percent of the police organization has undergone vaccinations,” she said. “Some of our staff have religious and/or medical exemptions that would preclude it.”

That rate is similar to the Santa Monica Fire Department.

“Santa Monica Fire supports its personnel to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Santa Monica spokeswoman Constance Farrell. “Currently, 52 percent of Santa Monica Fire staff have self-reported being fully vaccinated. City leadership continues to strongly encourage the safe, free, and effective vaccine to increase voluntary compliance across the organization. The City has coordinated six vaccination clinics since March for the community and employees, and has facilitated the scheduling of hundreds of vaccination appointments for employees.”

The local rates are on par with county levels. Only about 51 percent of Los Angeles firefighters and 52 percent of the city’s police officers are at least partially vaccinated. Fewer than 30 percent of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department staff have received vaccine doses through employee clinics, and about 54 percent of state corrections employees are at least partially vaccinated.

Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus employees have a 65 percent vaccination rate.

Local healthcare providers are vaccinated at a much higher rate.

Approximately 82 percent of UCLA Health employees are fully vaccinated. Currently, 86 percent of residents and 85 percent of staff at skilled nursing facilities are fully vaccinated county-wide.

“Providence is committed to the safety of all who enter our hospitals and other facilities, particularly as COVID-19 cases escalate again, rapidly spreading, especially among the unvaccinated. We have been steadfast in promoting and encouraging vaccination, knowing it has proven not only safe and effective, but lifesaving,” said Patricia Aidem with Providence St. John’s Hospital. “We have received notice of the new public health orders from the California Department of Public Health and are already beginning conversations on how to operationalize this so we can be in full compliance.”

Government officials are now discussing mandatory vaccines for civic employees pending final authorization of a vaccine by the FDA.

California will require all of its roughly 2.2 million health care workers and long-term care workers to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 as the nation’s most populous state is losing ground in the battle against new infections of a more dangerous coronavirus variant. The order, issued Thursday by the California Department of Public Health, is different than what Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said last month when he announced health care workers would have the choice of either getting vaccinated or submitting to weekly testing.

Some California local governments are going beyond the new rule. In Los Angeles County, some 110,000 government workers have until Oct. 1 to be vaccinated under a new order issued by Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis. She noted that about 4 million of the county’s roughly 10 million residents remain unvaccinated. The Los Angeles order doesn’t specify penalties for employees who refuse to be vaccinated.

Santa Monica is in discussion with labor unions regarding mandatory vaccination.

Experts said the lack of vaccination among front line workers is particularly worrying for everyone involved. Individuals like police officers, firefighters or bus drivers encounter many more people than the average resident making it much more likely they will be exposed to the virus. They said a vaccine is the best way to protect workers from infection and subsequently protect everyone else they counter from community spread.

Dr. Timothy Brewer is a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

He said lagging vaccine rates are dangerous in both the short and long term as unvaccinated people are at greater risk of contracting the disease and spreading it.

“The reason why that’s important is twofold,” he said. “One is it can cause disease and in small numbers, one to two percent even actually die. The other reason why it’s very important is, the more the virus transmits, the more it can change. So variants emerge because as the virus is replicating and makes mistakes, we call those mutations, and those mutations can result in new versions of the virus, we call them variants, and those variants may have properties like the Delta variant where they’re more able to spread from person to person.”

High vaccination rates also create a safety net for people who are unable to receive the direct benefit of a vaccine such as people with compromised immune systems or young children.

Dr. Brewer said the current resistance to vaccines has nothing to do with healthcare concerns given the probabilities associated with the disease and the known safety of the vaccine. Instead, he said that the healthcare response has become politicized.

“If you get a (coronavirus) infection, your risk of serious illness is about 15 percent, your risk of being hospitalized, including potentially in the intensive care unit is about 5 percent, your risk of dying is about 1 to 2 percent and if you survived all of this, your risk of post-COVID syndrome, or long hauler disease is somewhere between 30 to 80 percent. These are all bad things,” he said. “If you get vaccinated, not only do you reduce those risks by about 90 percent, depending on the vaccine you get, but in terms of adverse side effects, the serious ones like blood clots or serious allergic reactions or Guillain-Barre, a neuropathy disease and neuron disease, occur in the order of about two to 11 per million doses, so about 1,000 times lower and these adverse reactions are not necessarily fatal. We know how to treat anaphylaxis, they know how to treat blood clots now, we know how to treat Guillain-Barre, so why expose yourself to all these potentially terrible things when we have vaccines that are extremely safe, have been given to hundreds of millions of people. Over a billion people have been vaccinated globally. So, we have a lot of data on these vaccines. We know they’re safe, we know they work so there’s really no public health reason not to be vaccinated. So the people who are choosing not to be vaccinated at this point, in the U.S. where we have vaccines available, are choosing for reasons other than public health.”

Dr. Brewer said individuals with questions about vaccines should talk to a healthcare provider or make use of the resources available from the County’s Public Health Department.

Anyone 12 and older living or working in L.A. County can get vaccinated against COVID-19. Visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish) to find a vaccination site near you. Vaccinations are widely available throughout L.A. County and many sites are open on weekends and have evening hours. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status. If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment, connecting to free transportation to and from a vaccination site, or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound.

Additional COVID-19 information is available on the Public Health website, www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.

editor@smdp.com