In-Depth: Who's getting a COVID-19 booster shot in San Diego?

County data reveals challenges to booster rollout
Posted at 6:05 AM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-09 10:23:58-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Data from San Diego County shows a wide disparity in COVID-19 booster shots between young and old, and ethnic groups.

Initially released on Dec. 1, and updated Dec. 8, the vaccine booster demographic data shows the booster rollout faces many of the same challenges from the county's initial vaccine rollout.

"Overall, I think the rates are low," says Dr. Abisola Olulade from Sharp Rees-Stealy Family Medicine. "We need to get the messaging out there that it is important to get a booster shot as soon as possible."

County officials were not available to comment about specific numbers, but they sent data to ABC 10News showing that 528,256 residents in San Diego have gotten their booster shot (as of Dec. 8). That equates to 20.4% of the population.

By age, people above 60 have accounted for 54.4% of the boosters. That age group represents 25.4% of the population.

Conversely, people ages 18-29, which make up a similar size of San Diego County (24.7%), have gotten just 6.3% of the boosters.

Time may be a factor, as young people have only been eligible for the booster shots for about a month, while older San Diegans have been able to get a booster shot since September 22.

But Dr. Olulade also thinks the messaging is confusing, leading to booster shot hesitancy.

"We've learned that simple messaging is very important," she says, noting the mixed messages from the FDA and CDC over who should get a booster and when.

Most recently, the CDC increased its booster recommendation, saying all Americans over the age of 18 "should get" a booster shot six months after completing their initial series of Moderna or Pfizer or two months after getting the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Dr. Olulade also told ABC 10News she worries about the low rates of booster shots among San Diego's oldest residents, where only 44.3% of people ages 80+ and 55.2% of people ages 70-79 have gotten a booster.

"That is concerning because as someone gets older, their risk of dying from COVID actually increases," Dr. Olulade says.

Meanwhile, demographic numbers based on Race and Ethnicity show minorities lag well behind when it comes to getting a booster shot.

Among Hispanic/Latino residents, just 11.4% have gotten a booster. They also make up 16.7% of all the boosters given, even though that group makes up 29.8% of the county's population.

The numbers for Black/African American people are similarly low, with only 10% getting booster shots. That group represents 5.1% of the County's population but just 2.5% of the booster shots.

White people, who make up 47.6% of the population, have gotten 50.5% of the booster shots.

"(There is) a little bit of hesitation within the community," says Lupe Flores, the Manager of Development and Community Relations for the San Diego Latino Health Coalition.

"But that's what we're here for. We're here to answer questions. We're here to make those appointments."

Flores says access to technology and language barriers are still a factor in booster shots, just as they were at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. The Latino Health Coalition has sent Promotoras into neighborhoods to make it easier for people.

"They're still visiting local businesses and talking to folks, making sure they get those appointments done," Flores says. "Our numbers are going to increase with our outreach and Promotoras and everyone coming to us for answers to their questions. So I think we're confident we're going to be able to get all the numbers up."

Dr. Olulade says health professionals and the county need to better communicate to all groups. That will help combat misinformation.

She says it's essential to let people know booster shots do not mean the vaccine doesn't work.

"It's important that we say that it is normal for vaccine effectiveness to go down over time," Dr. Olulade says. "This is something that we expected, and it doesn't mean the vaccines aren't working, but it is important that you get that booster to get that additional protection."

She adds that innovation in the message medium will help, as different people get their information from different places.

"We talk about equity in access to health care. We also need equity in access to health information," Dr. Olulade says. "We need to make things as easy as possible."