At Villa Maria Post Acute in Santa Maria, residents and staff are feeling a "ray of hope" after receiving their first vaccine doses Dec. 29 amid an outbreak that has infected 30 residents and 18 staff members, according to a facility administrator. 

"We’ve been so fortunate not to have a major outbreak until now, and the light at the end of the tunnel is the vaccine," he said. "We’re hoping it’s effective as everyone says it is, and once everyone has their second vaccine, we hope it keeps everyone safe," Jared Cullifer said. 

Residents at the Santa Maria facility were vaccinated through an on-site CVS Pharmacy clinic as distribution to high-risk groups picks up speed throughout the county and state. 

Long-term care facility personnel and residents are the second-highest-priority group for COVID-19 vaccinations within the California Department of Public Health's distribution plan, following personnel at hospital and acute care facilities. 

The vaccines come at a time of urgent need, when 13 out of the 14 registered skilled nursing facilities in Santa Barbara County are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, with active cases among residents, staff or both, according to county health care data

Most nursing facilities in Santa Maria and Lompoc have opted to receive the Pfizer BionTech vaccine through state pharmacy partnerships with either CVS or Walgreens, allowing the pharmacies to deliver and administer the vaccines on-site. 

State pharmacy vaccinations for this group began in California on Dec. 28, with CVS planning to administer Pfizer doses to 15,000 facilities over the next weeks. 

According to CVS Health spokesman Joe Good, CVS locations throughout the country have the ability to store the Moderna vaccine and others within their pharmacy buildings. However, due to the ultra-low temperature requirements for storing the Pfizer vaccine, those doses are stored in special depot facilities throughout the state. 

CVS personnel then pick up the doses from the depot locations and bring them to skilled nursing facilities for vaccination clinics. Pfizer vaccines also can be packed in dry ice and delivered directly to facilities, Good said. 

"We have teams of pharmacists and licensed nurses that are being dispatched and deployed to the long-term facilities that have selected CVS," he said. 

Mark Hall, director of Lompoc Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, said vaccines would be administered through Walgreens on Dec. 31 to any of the 250 residents or staff who request it. Residents are excited, he said, although some are still unsure of the vaccine.

"Most people have consented to get the vaccine, but there are some that are a bit leery of it, so we're trying to give education … Walgreens has been great about that," he said. 

Marian Extended Care Center, a skilled nursing facility connected to Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, also administered vaccines from CVS to residents and staff on Dec. 28, spokeswoman Sara San Juan said.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center's skilled nursing facility Lompoc Comprehensive Care Center, staff originally planned to vaccinate residents and staff through Walgreens, spokeswoman Nora Wallace said.

However, due to a longer wait time through the Walgreens program, the hospital opted to use their own vaccine supply delivered over the past two weeks, and began administering doses on Dec. 29. 

"All residents who are medically eligible and have consented to the vaccination will be vaccinated by the end of tomorrow [Dec. 30]," Wallace said.  "Some staff received their vaccination last week. All staff who have consented to the vaccination will be vaccinated by the end of [Dec. 30]." 

Administrators at Country Oaks Care Center in Santa Maria said the facility is scheduled to receive the vaccine through CVS in early January, with no specific date set yet.

In May, Country Oaks was host to one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the county, with the infection of nearly 60 residents and staff and the death of 12 residents.