A syringe holding the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Katherine R. Smith Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 pandemic response has saved as many as 600 lives compared to the national average death rate due to the county’s effort to mitigate the virus’ spread and vaccinate as many people as possible, the county’s top health official said Tuesday.

As of Monday, 268 county residents have died due to the virus, more than 200 of whom died prior to the COVID-19 vaccines becoming widely available in the spring of 2021.

In addition, according to county data, 234 of those who died from COVID-related complications were unvaccinated and 241 were 60 years old or older.

County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel told the county’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday that Santa Cruz County’s death rate is not only one of the lowest in the country, it is one of the lowest in the greater Bay Area, which has some of the lowest COVID death rates of any major metropolitan region in the U.S.

“San Francisco and the Bay Area region has performed best in the nation in terms of case rates, death rates, vaccination rates,” she said. “But if you look at the Bay Area region overall, Santa Cruz is one of the top performers within that region.”

Newel and county Health Services Agency Public Health Manager Emily Chung said county health officials are currently developing an after-action report on the county’s response to the pandemic to both understand what was done right or wrong and the resources public health will require going forward.

As of Monday, 76 percent of all county residents had completed their initial vaccination series. An additional 6 percent have received their first of two vaccine doses in their initial series.

“We are all learning to live with COVID, still, and we will continue to reinforce those messages to mitigate and protect ourselves from this virus,” Chung said.