Last updated:  11:51 p.m. April 1, 2021

In Santa Cruz County, the COVID-19 vaccine is available to:

  • People 50 and older
  • People aged 16-64 at high medical risk
  • Health care workers
  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities
  • Homeless people
  • Workers in the following sectors:
    • Education, including libraries
    • Child care, day care, foster care
    • Food services, including production and delivery
    • Agriculture, including farms, animal care and forestry
    • Fire and law enforcement
    • Emergency services, including those working in utilities and shelters
    • Social work
    • Janitorial services, including housekeeping
    • Transportation
    • Congregate living facilities, such as facilities for behavioral health, incarceration or detention 

Check Santa Cruz County’s vaccination website for updates.

Scroll for answers to these questions:

When will I get access to the vaccine?

Click the boxes for answers

All Californians age 16 to 49 will be eligible April 15.

COVID vaccines are not yet authorized for use by children younger than 16.

The California Department of Public Health has launched a pilot site MyTurn for appointment scheduling and notifications. Santa Cruz County residents can register on the site to get notified when they’re eligible to get the vaccine, based on age, occupation and zip code. 

The county will also post updates to its vaccination page

Where do I go to get the vaccine?

Click the boxes on the vaccination sites to check for eligibility. This list has the groups that are eligible as of March 26.

Four local Safeway pharmacies offer the vaccine. Registration and eligibility are on Safeway’s website. As of March 26, no appointments were available at Safeway pharmacies in Santa Cruz County. Pharmacy staff advised to keep checking the website for availability.  

  • Aptos: Safeway Pharmacy, 16 Rancho Del Mar. Call 831-661-4861.
  • Santa Cruz: Safeway Pharmacy, 117 Morrissey Blvd. Call 831-420-0781.
  • Santa Cruz: Safeway Pharmacy, 2203 Mission St. Call 831-420-0785.
  • Soquel: Safeway Pharmacy, 2720 41st Ave.  Call 831-426-8911.

Local Rite-Aid pharmacies have offered the vaccine. Registration and eligibility are on Rite-Aid’s website. As of March 26, no appointments were available at Rite-Aid pharmacies in Santa Cruz County. Pharmacy staff advised to keep checking the website for availability. For information, call 866-761-9952

  • Aptos: Rite-Aid Pharmacy, 80 Rancho del Mar. Call 831-688-6417.
  • Capitola: Rite-Aid Pharmacy, 1475 41st Ave. Call 831-476-7282.
  • Felton: Rite-Aid Pharmacy, 6123 Highway 9. Call 831-335-7252.
  • Freedom: Rite-Aid Pharmacy, 1988 Freedom Blvd. Call 831-724-5104.
  • Santa Cruz: Rite-Aid Pharmacy, 901 Soquel Ave. Call 831-426-4303.

Local Walgreens pharmacies have offered the vaccine. Registration is on Walgreens’ website. As of March 26, no appointments were available at Walgreens pharmacies in Santa Cruz County.

As of April 1, appointments are available for people 50 and older, those 16 to 64 who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions, people who live or work in residential group settings, and those who work in:

  • Education and childcare
  • Food and agriculture
  • Emergency services
  • Health care and long-term care
  • Public transit, airports and commercial airlines

For details on which underlying medical conditions qualify, visit Kaiser Permanente’s website and click on the “high-risk groups” tab.

Kaiser Permanente patients who are eligible for the vaccine can call their primary care physician or call 866-454-8855. Kaiser Permanente patients can also schedule online.  

For those eligible for a vaccination but not a Kaiser Permanente member, they can get an appointment and a medical record number at 866-454-8855. Information is on Kaiser’s vaccine website.

The following groups are eligible for vaccination at Sutter Health:

  • Sutter Health patients age 50 and older.
  • Workers in the following sectors:
    • Agriculture and food
    • Education and childcare
    • Emergency services
    • Public transit, including those who work at airports or for commercial airlines.
    • Health care (verification required)
  • People age 16 to 64 with severe health conditions or disabilities.
  • People who live or work in congregate residential settings, including those who are homeless.

Call 844-987-6115 or log in to the MyHealthOnline portal to schedule a vaccination.

More information is on the Sutter Health vaccine webpage. “Sutter Health patients” are anyone who has received any health care at a Sutter Health or Palo Alto Medical Foundation clinic or walk-in care center — including flu shot clinics — in the past two years.

Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican patients are people who have primary care doctors in the Dignity Health Medical Group-Domincan system.  

Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican’s clinic follows the county’s eligibility criteria. That includes:

  • Health care workers
  • People 50 and older
  • People age 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions
  • People employed in education, child care, food services, agriculture, law enforcement and emergency services.

To schedule, call the group’s COVID vaccine line 831-288-6526, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays or check eligibility and make appointments through the state’s MyTurn website. Staff on the group’s COVID vaccine line can assist if residents cannot find availability on the MyTurn website.

Information is on Dignity Health Medical Group-Dominican’s website. 

As of April 1, Salud Para La Gente is vaccinating:

  • Salud Para La Gente patients 65 and older
  • Salud Para La Gente patients who work in health care, education, child care, agriculture, food or emergency services
  • Patients of other small medical offices who fit any of the following criteria:
    •  65 and older
    • Work in health care, education, child care, agriculture, food or emergency services
    • Live or work in 95019, 95076 or 95077 ZIP codes.

Call 831-728-0222 to schedule.

Santa Cruz Community Health Centers are vaccinating:

  • Santa Cruz Community Health Centers patients who work in health care, education, childcare, food and agriculture, emergency services, transit and other eligible industries
  • Santa Cruz Community Health Centers patients who have high-risk medical conditions or are experiencing homelessness
  • Any residents 65 and older, regardless of patient status.

Call 831-427-3500 to schedule.

The Santa Cruz Community Health Centers clinics are East Cliff Family Health Center, 21507 E. Cliff Drive in Live Oak and Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center, 250 Locust St. in Santa Cruz.

Homeless people or homeless service providers can call 831-454-2080 or register online.

The vaccine clinic is at 116 Coral St. in Santa Cruz.

Emeline Health Center in Santa Cruz and Watsonville Health Center are the two clinics run by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, and generally serve people who are uninsured, underinsured or have MediCal insurance.

As of March 26, Watsonville Health Center staff are vaccinating:

  • Health care workers
  • Watsonville Health Center patients 65 and older
  • People employed in education, child care, food services, agriculture, law enforcement, emergency services

To schedule at Watsonville Health Center, call or text 831-515-9399. Include full name, date of birth and phone number. The clinic has high call volumes. Another number to try is the main clinic line, 831-763-8400.

The Watsonville Health Center is at 1430 Freedom Blvd., Suite D in Watsonville.

As of March 26, Emeline Health Center staff are vaccinating:

  • Health care workers
  • Emeline Health Center patients 65 and older
  • People employed in education, child care, food services, agriculture, law enforcement and emergency services.

Call 831-454-4100.

The Emeline Health Center is at 1080 Emeline Ave. in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz County residents 65 and older regardless of insurance status can get an appointment at a mass vaccination clinic at Old City Hall, 250 Main St., Watsonville.

Call 877-218-0381 or register online. Both registration methods are available in English and Spanish.

As of March 26, only second-dose appointments were available.

The clinic is run by OptumServe, a subsidiary of the Minnesota-based health care giant UnitedHealth Group, Inc.

Concerns from readers about equitable access

Click the boxes for answers.

Read Santa Cruz Local’s story “Vaccines came slowly for the most vulnerable in Santa Cruz County” and listen to the related Santa Cruz Local podcast “Were some COVID deaths preventable in Santa Cruz County senior homes?

More data on COVID deaths in Santa Cruz County are listed on the county’s coronavirus website on the “demographics” tab.

Vaccine administration numbers for Santa Cruz County are updated on the state’s vaccine dashboard.

Through March 20, about 128,000 vaccine doses have been administered to Santa Cruz County residents. That figure includes first and second doses, and doses administered at clinics outside Santa Cruz County.

  • More than 85% of Santa Cruz County residents 75 and older have been vaccinated
  • About 80% of county residents 65 and older have been vaccinated, Dr. David Ghilarducci, Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer said in a March 25 news conference.

Questions from readers about vaccine safety, efficacy

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The first batch of vaccines shipped to the county in mid-December were made by Pfizer, an American multinational pharmaceutical company, and its partner, the German firm BioNTech. These vaccines come in two doses administered three weeks apart. The vaccine is stored in a special freezer, which presents some logistical challenges, Santa Cruz County Chief of Public Health Jennifer Herrera said.

A different vaccine, made by Massachusetts-based company Moderna, was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is also available in Santa Cruz County. The Moderna vaccine is taken in two doses 28 days apart.

A third authorized vaccine is made by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Janssen is a Belgium-based company owned by the New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson corporation. This vaccine is administered in one dose.

Analysis of about 37,000 participants in a trial of the Pfizer vaccine showed the vaccine was 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, seven days after the second dose. There were eight COVID cases in the group that received the vaccine and 162 COVID cases in the placebo group.

A trial of about 30,000 people to test the Moderna vaccine showed an efficacy rate of 94.1%. There were 11 COVID cases in the vaccine group and 185 cases in the placebo group.

A trial of 40,000 people showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66.3% effective at preventing COVID-19 14 days after vaccination.

  • How long vaccine protection lasts: The trial lasted months, not years.
  • How well the vaccine prevents transmission: Analysis is still needed.
  • How well the virus prevents serious illness: The trials tested for how well the vaccine protects against any COVID infection, and showed it was 95% effective. More testing is needed to determine how well it protects against severe COVID illness.

The vaccine “probably reduces people’s infectiousness, but I wouldn’t bet my life on ‘probably,’” said Marm Kilpatrick, a UC Santa Cruz professor who studies infectious diseases.

“We don’t actually have data to back up anything except if you get exposed, your chance of symptomatic illness now is 95% lower starting seven days after your second dose. That’s the strongest, clearest thing we can say,” Kilpatrick said.

  • How long vaccine protection lasts: Scientists have a few months of data, not years.

However, more data is available about the Moderna vaccine than the Pfizer vaccine on how well it prevents transmission and serious illness.

  • Transmission: There is limited data on how well the Moderna vaccine prevents transmission. However, a trial of about 28,000 people showed that the first dose of the vaccine resulted in a roughly two-thirds reduction in the percentage of people with asymptomatic infections after the first dose, compared to the placebo group.
  • Serious illness: Data suggests that the Moderna vaccine does offer protection against serious illness. In a trial of about 28,000 people, 30 people in the placebo group had serious COVID-19 illness, compared to zero in the vaccinated group.

Marm Kilpatrick, the UC Santa Cruz professor, said that the data shows “really, really strong evidence” that the Moderna vaccine is effective at preventing severe illness. He said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work similarly and given a choice, he’d take either.

“It’s not that the Moderna one’s great, and the Pfizer one’s not good. It’s that the Moderna one we have really robust evidence, and the Pfizer one, just due to the number of illnesses that they had at the time that they did the analysis, are not high enough to really know for the Pfizer vaccine,” Kilpatrick said.

That depends on how fast a new strain of the virus spreads, said Marm Kilpatrick, a UC Santa Cruz professor who studies infectious diseases. Preliminary data shows that the new strain is about 50% more transmissible than previous strains, Kilpatrick said.

“And if that’s the case, then you’ll actually have to increase the fraction of people that are vaccinated even higher, to see substantial reductions in transmission,” Kilpatrick said. “So as I’m looking at things, I think we can see a huge decrease in death just by getting the nursing home residents vaccinated, and then [the people older than 75], and another big decrease by getting the 65-and-overs. And at that point, we’ll have covered most people that are dying. We’ll still have a bunch of people that will get sick and sometimes hospitalized. And then we can kind of chip away at that, as we get both older people and some of the people that are frontline workers that are getting exposed the most.

“But then, we’re not going to get down to no masks, regular parties and large gatherings of people until a really high fraction of the population gets either vaccinated or infected, or both. And with the new strain, that number is probably going to be somewhere in the, like 80% to 90% range. So that’s a little bit of uncertainty, if you go back to the original strain that we have now. And if the new strain ends up being not as infectious as it looks like so far, then that number could have been as low as between 60% and 70%. But now, if the data turned out to be correct, then it’ll be closer to 80% to 90%,” Kilpatrick said.

As of Jan. 5, among hospital workers in Santa Cruz County, 70% of those offered the vaccine have taken it. Thirty percent have said no or said they want to wait before they take it, said Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci.

“I think we’re going to be living with this virus for the rest of our lives. And just like we have to live with polio and measles and mumps, these are viruses that are now part of our human existence. And the best way — the only way, I should say — to control this is to have broad acceptance of vaccination programs to do this,” Ghilarducci said. “We’ve essentially eradicated polio from this country — it does exist in other countries — but the only reason we’ve been able to do that is because we have good polio vaccine acceptance rates. So the same will be true for COVID going forward. And, you know, at some point, probably it’ll be required for children to get this before they go to school, just like other vaccines, but it also will be heavily recommended for people in high risk groups and so forth.

“Really, I think people need to understand this, is that this vaccine is really our only path out of this. And people have, you know, concerns, I certainly understand that. And I think that’s normal and natural. But the benefit of these vaccines in general far outweigh any small risks. And I really encourage people to get real information, to get information from reputable sources and not from social media, regarding this vaccine and other aspects of COVID,” Ghilarducci said.

According to a Pfizer fact sheet, some people reported side effects of the vaccine, including:

  • injection site pain, swelling and redness
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • joint pain
  • fever
  • nausea
  • feeling unwell
  • swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)

The side effects could be felt after either dose, but are usually more severe after the second dose, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.

In a trial of about 37,000 participants, the most common side effects were injection site reactions (84% of people), fatigue (63%) and muscle pain (38%), lasting a few days.

“The vaccine effects are, you know, one to two days long, and the lasting effects of COVID could be months,” Kilpatrick said. He added that he hopes that will convince younger people to get the vaccine.

There is a chance that the vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction. People who have had severe allergic reactions to any ingredients of the vaccine should not take it. The vaccine has not been authorized for use with children 15 and younger.

According to the Pfizer fact sheet, the vaccine ingredients are: mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose. It is injected with sodium chloride.

According to a Moderna fact sheet, some people reported side effects of the vaccine, including:

  • injection site reactions: pain, tenderness and swelling of the lymph nodes in the same arm of the injection, swelling and redness
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle or joint pain
  • chills
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever

The side effects could be felt after either dose, but are usually more severe after the second dose, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.

There is a chance that the vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction. People who have had severe allergic reactions to any ingredients of the vaccine should not take it. The vaccine has not been authorized for use with children younger than 18.

According to the Moderna fact sheet, the vaccine ingredients are:

  • mRNA
  • lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC])
  • tromethamine
  • tromethamine hydrochloride
  • acetic acid
  • sodium acetate
  • sucrose.

In a trial with more than 43,000 participants, the most commonly reported side effects were:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea.

“Most of these side effects were mild to moderate in severity and lasted 1-2 days,” according to a study published March 2 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

There is a chance the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction. People who have had severe allergic reactions to any ingredients of the vaccine should not take it. The vaccine has not been authorized for use with children younger than 18.

According to the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) fact sheet, the vaccine ingredients are:

  • Recombinant
  • replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein
  • citric acid monohydrate
  • trisodium citrate dihydrate
  • Ethanol
  • 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD)
  • Polysorbate-80
  • sodium chloride

County health leaders recommend that anyone who has a concern about the vaccines should speak with their doctor.

The most common ingredient of the Pfizer and Moderna vacccines that may cause allergies is the polyethylene glycol, Ghilarducci said.

“So people that have had an allergy to that particular component in the past should probably not get the vaccine at this point or at least talk to their physician. But that number is very small,” he said.

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel recommends for anyone with a history of allergies to vaccinations to receive their shot in a medical clinic, not at a mass vaccination site such as the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds “because it will be harder for us to observe directly during the 15 to 30 minute follow up period.”

A Santa Cruz Local reader found this paragraph below in the FDA memo that described authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine. She wanted to know what it meant.

“Available data do not indicate a risk of vaccine-enhanced disease, and conversely suggest effectiveness against severe disease within the available follow-up period. However, risk of vaccine-enhanced disease over time, potentially associated with waning immunity, remains unknown and needs to be evaluated further in ongoing clinical trials and in observational studies that could be conducted following authorization and/or licensure.”

We asked Marm Kilpatrick, a UC Santa Cruz professor who studies infectious diseases.

Kilpatrick wrote: “Some vaccines for the first SARS virus showed vaccine-enhanced disease in animal models and were abandoned, so people were concerned this might be an issue for COVID-19. There’s no evidence of it so far in animals or people, but it’s being monitored.”

Alice Lu-Culligan, a Yale University medical and doctoral student, and Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University, recently co-authored an opinion piece in the New York Times that explored this question.

Opinion: The false rumors about vaccines that are scaring women (New York Times)

A response from Marm Kilpatrick, a UC Santa Cruz professor who studies infectious diseases:

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made of messenger RNA (mRNA). These are molecules that the body uses to make proteins. DNA is transcribed into RNA, and RNA into proteins. “mRNA molecules are broken down every few days, so the mRNA in the vaccines will be broken down by your body after a few days,” Kilpatrick wrote in an email to Santa Cruz Local. “During that time our cells will make many copies of the spike protein from the virus (but no other parts of the virus) and our immune system reacts to those proteins and mounts an immune response.” The body makes antibodies and several kinds of white blood cells, so it’s ready to defend against the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidance for people who have been fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated” means:

  • Two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine
  • Two weeks after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

As of March 23, the guidance allows fully-vaccinated people to:

  • Gather indoors with other fully-vaccinated people without wearing a mask
  • Gather indoors without masks with unvaccinated people from a single household, unless anyone in that gathering lives with someone at risk for severe COVID.
  • Not have to quarantine if they have been exposed to COVID, unless they live in a group setting.

Fully-vaccinated people should still:

  • Wear a mask in public
  • Avoid medium and large gatherings
  • Delay domestic and international travel. Travel requirements still apply.
  • Follow workplace guidance
  • Get tested if they have COVID symptoms.

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Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.