Last updated: Dec. 16, 2022
Green markers indicate sites that offer free testing. Most sites have eligibility requirements.
COVID-19 and flu test information
Santa Cruz County has nearly two dozen COVID-19 testing sites and three free influenza test sites. Eligibility rules, cost and turnaround time vary. Here’s the breakdown by city and area.
Free COVID and flu tests are also available for people with symptoms at three locations in Santa Cruz County:
- Watsonville: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday at the Veterans Memorial Building, 215 E. Beach St.
- Santa Cruz: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday at the county government building parking lot (near Starbucks), 701 Ocean St.
- Felton: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday to Tuesday at the Felton Library, 6121 Gushee St.
What to do with a positive flu test result
People with positive flu tests can contact their health provider for an antiviral prescription. If antiviral treatment is started within two days of the onset of symptoms, the medicine can lessen symptoms and shorten the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more about flu antivirals.
People with serious symptoms are urged to consider emergency medical care. Serious symptoms include:
- Significant difficulty breathing.
- Intense chest pain.
- Severe weakness.
- Fever that persists for days.
People who have COVID are encouraged to contact their health provider to see if they are eligible for COVID treatment. The antiviral pills work best if started immediately after symptom onset, local public health officials have said.
Santa Cruz County has several “test-to-treat” locations where residents can get a COVID test, see a health care provider and get antiviral pills in the same visit.
Santa Cruz County students, staff and their families can get tested at:
- School sites by registration
- Cabrillo College parking lot R, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. 9 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
- San Lorenzo Valley District Office, 325 Marion Ave., Ben Lomond. 12-4p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- Pajaro Valley Unified School District parking lot, 294 Green Valley Road, Watsonville. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday.
- Santa Cruz County of Education, 399 Encinal St., Santa Cruz. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
- Salud Para La Gente, 204 E. Beach St., Watsonville. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The tests are free or billed through health insurance. More information.
Other free COVID tests
Free tests are offered at the following locations. Some locations have eligibility requirements.
- Watsonville: Doctors on Duty
- Watsonville: CVS
- Santa Cruz: Doctors on Duty
- Live Oak: East Cliff Family Health Center
- Aptos: Doctors on Duty
- Aptos: Cabrillo College
- Capitola: CVS
Updated COVID boosters are available to anyone 5 and older. As of late November 2022, 23% of eligible Santa Cruz County residents have received the updated COVID booster, according to county data.
- Find locations of COVID vaccine sites.
- Many health clinics and local pharmacies offer flu vaccines.
Four local Safeway pharmacies offer the vaccine. Registration and eligibility are on Safeway’s website. As of Dec. 16, Safeway pharmacies in Santa Cruz County had appointment availability, including for boosters and shots for children ages 12 and up. You can schedule appointments online.
- Aptos: Safeway Pharmacy, 16 Rancho Del Mar. Call 831-661-4861.
- Santa Cruz: Safeway Pharmacy, 117 Morrissey Blvd. Call 831-426-8911.
- Santa Cruz: Safeway Pharmacy, 2203 Mission St. Call 831-420-0785.
- Soquel: Safeway Pharmacy, 2720 41st Ave. Call 831-477-7217.
The Costco at 224 Sylvania Ave. in Santa Cruz offers first and second doses and booster shots.
People 3 and older are eligible for a primary vaccine at Costco. Appointments for children are limited, according to Costco’s website.
Read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on boosters for children.
Book online. For questions, call 831-469-0366.
Local Rite-Aid pharmacies have offered the vaccine. Registration and eligibility are on Rite-Aid’s website. As of Dec. 16, appointments were available at Rite Aid pharmacies in Santa Cruz County, including boosters and shots. You can schedule appointments online.
- 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 offer the vaccine. Registration is on Walgreens’ website. As of Dec. 16, appointments were available at Walgreens pharmacies in Santa Cruz County, including for boosters.
- Santa Cruz: 1718 Soquel Ave. Call 831-425-3911.
- Scotts Valley: 210 Mount Hermon Road. Call 831-430-9113.
- Freedom: 1810 Freedom Blvd. Call 831-768-0183.
Local CVS pharmacies offer the vaccine, including boosters. Registration is on CVS’ website. Below are the CVS pharmacies in Santa Cruz County that had available appointments as of Dec. 16. Appointments are available for individuals and families or groups. Check the CVS website for the latest availability.
- Capitola: 809 Bay Ave. Call 831-475-1421.
- Capitola: 1750 41st Ave. Call 831-476-0400.
- Capitola: 1825 41st. Ave. in Target. Call 831-227-2102.
- Felton: 6247 Graham Hill Road. Call 831-335-6403.
- Santa Cruz: 1700 Mission St. Call 831-457-2481.
- Santa Cruz: 600 Front St. Call 831-426-7444.
- Scotts Valley: 257 Mount Hermon Road. Call 831-438-5920.
- Watsonville: 1415 Main St., inside Target. Call 831-740-4283.
- Watsonville: 1966 Main St. Call 831-722-1782.
- Watsonville: 490 Rodriguez St. Call 831-722-9454.
Walk-in clients may be accepted, depending on availability.
Westside Pharmacy and Horsnyder Pharmacy in Santa Cruz offer the COVID vaccine, including boosters, for people 18 and older.
Appointments are walk-in only. Wait times are typically 30 minutes or less, pharmacy staff said.
- Westside Pharmacy, 1401 Mission St. in Santa Cruz. Walk-in vaccine clinic hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Call 831-278-6769 for information.
- Horsnyder Pharmacy, 1226 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz. Walk-in vaccine clinic hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Call 831-458-1400 for information.
As of Dec. 16, 2022, appointments are available for children 6 months and older. For details, visit Kaiser Permanente’s vaccine website.
- Santa Cruz location: 110 Cooper St., Suite 500, Santa Cruz. Open Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Available for adults 18+
- Scotts Valley location: 5615 Scotts Valley Dr., Scotts Valley. Open Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Available for all 5 and older.
- Watsonville location: 1931 Main St., Watsonville. Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Available only to children 6 months to 4 years.
Primary vaccinations are available for children 6 months and older. Booster shots are available for anyone 5 years and older and additional doses are available for immunocompromised patients.
Call 844-987-6115 or log in to the MyHealthOnline portal to schedule a vaccination.
More information is on the Sutter Health vaccine webpage.
Dignity Health patients 5 and older are eligible to schedule an appointment.
To schedule, call the group’s COVID vaccine line 831-288-6526, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays or 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.
Vaccines, including boosters, are available at Doctors on Duty. New patients and walk-ins are welcome or call to make an appointment.
- Santa Cruz: 615 Ocean St. Call 831-425-7991.
- Moderna (for 18 and up): 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays
- Pfizer (for people 12 and older): 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fridays
- Currently out of pediatric Pfizer for 5 and older
- Watsonville: 1505 Main St. Call 831-722-1444.
- Moderna: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays
- Pfizer (for people 5 and older): 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays.
- Pediatric Pfizer available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays.
Children 6 months and older can schedule an appointment, only for Salud Para La Gente established patients.
To schedule, text “VAX” to 831-728-0222 or call 831-728-0222. Visit Salud Para La Gente’s website for details.
Santa Cruz Community Health Centers patients 6 months and older can sign up for the vaccine at Santa Cruz Community Health Centers.
Call 831-427-3500 to schedule.
The Santa Cruz Community Health Centers clinics are Live Oak Health Center, 1510 Capitola Road in Live Oak and Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center, 250 Locust St. in Santa Cruz.
Unhoused people or homeless service providers can call 831-454-2080 or register online. Anyone 18 and older can schedule an appointment at the clinic. Thursday between 9 and 11 a.m.
The vaccine clinic is at 115A 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.
To schedule at Watsonville Health Center, call the main line at 831-763-8400.
- First-time vaccinations and booster shots: 1-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Watsonville Health Center is at 1430 Freedom Blvd., Suite D in Watsonville.
To schedule at the Emeline Health Center drive-thru site, call 831-454-4100. Appointments are required.
- First-time vaccinations and booster shots: 9 to 11:30 on Thursdays for non-patients.
The Emeline Health Center is at 1080 Emeline Ave. in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz County children age 5 and older can register for a vaccine through the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. Vaccine clinics are held at schools throughout the county.
For details, visit the county office of education website, call 831-466-5906 or email [email protected]
- Cabrillo College parking lot staff-H, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Pajaro Valley Unified School District office, 294 Green Valley Road. in Watsonville. Every 2nd Thursday of the month 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Santa Cruz County Office of Education, 399 Encinal St. in Santa Cruz. Fridays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Established patients ages 6 months to 21 years old can get a vaccination at the clinic at 222 Green Valley Rd. in Freedom.
The clinic is open:
- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday.
Schedule appointments by calling 831-728-2969.
Concerns from readers about equitable access
Click the boxes for answers.
Government-issued identification such as a passport or driver’s license is not required. According to a state representative, other forms of identification can be used, such as:
- Library card
- ATM card
- Utility bill
- Money transfer receipt
- Employee identification
Some vaccine providers in Santa Cruz County require an identification card that has name, photo and birth date.
Homebound Santa Cruz County residents in need of a vaccine can submit a county form to get a medical professional to visit their home.
For assistance with the form, call the Community Bridges vaccination hotline at 831-219-8607.
Groups of 10 or more can also text CruzMedMo, a privately-operated mobile health van, to visit their apartment complex. Text “Vax me SCLocal” or “Vacúname SCLocal” to 831-241-7501.
Lyft also offers free rides to vaccine appointments.
Vaccine administration numbers for Santa Cruz County are updated on the state’s vaccine dashboard.
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.
Questions from readers about vaccine safety, efficacy
Click the boxes for answers.
The first batch of vaccines shipped to the county in mid-December 2020 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: 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.
What percentage of the population needs to get the vaccine to safely ease restrictions and social distancing rules?
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, 2021, 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
- muscle pain
- joint pain
- 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 younger than 12.
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
- muscle or joint pain
- nausea and vomiting
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:
- lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC])
- tromethamine hydrochloride
- acetic acid
- sodium acetate
In a trial with more than 43,000 participants, the most commonly reported side effects were:
- Pain at the injection site
- Muscle aches
“Most of these side effects were mild to moderate in severity and lasted 1-2 days,” according to a study published March 2, 2021, 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:
- replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein
- citric acid monohydrate
- trisodium citrate dihydrate
- 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD)
- 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.
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)
I’ve heard that the vaccine changes your DNA, but doctors tell me it doesn’t. Can you explain how the vaccine works?
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 May 14, 2021, the guidance allows fully-vaccinated people to:
- Resume activities they did prior to the pandemic
- Resume activities without a mask, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
- Not have to get tested before or after domestic travel or quarantine after domestic travel
- Not have to get tested or quarantine after exposure to COVID, unless they live or work in a group setting
Fully vaccinated people should still:
- Follow rules for international travel
- Wear a mask on public transportation
- Get tested if they have COVID symptoms
People with a weakened immune system, whether due to medications or a condition, should check with their health care provider about COVID precautions.
We’d like to hear from you.
Marika Riggs, an intensive care unit nurse at Dominican Hospital, receives a COVID-19 vaccine dose in December 2020. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)