The campus community reflects on the presence of a Wellness Vending Machine selling contraceptive and health items following its establishment in 2017. 

The wellness machines are mandated to include contraceptive products at a discounted price. Hanz Herman / Daily Nexus

Each University of California campus is required to have at least one Wellness Vending Machine, and Cal State and California community college to establish at least one machine at five of their campuses in accordance with the 2022 Assembly Bill 2482. 

The wellness machines are mandated to include condoms, dental dams, menstrual products, lubrication, pregnancy tests and emergency contraception, like Plan B, at a discounted price.

In a Nexus survey of 84 random students at the Arbor and University Center, 45% of respondents knew about the wellness vending machine. Siddharth Chattoraj / Daily Nexus

Before this legislation, a 2017 Associated Students effort to address accessibility gaps to contraceptive products on the weekends, resulted in the establishment of the Wellness Vending Machine at UC Santa Barbara. Sitting on the second floor of the UCSB library by the Ocean Floor elevators, the vending machine sells emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, condoms and lubricant, along with allergy and pain-relief medication, sanitizer and digital thermometers. 

Without insurance, Plan B and other generic emergency contraceptives typically cost $40-50, according to Planned Parenthood. Because of efforts by the Student Health Center and Women’s Center, the cost is $15, which was previously $10 since 2017.  

Betsy Kaminiski, the Director of Women, Gender, and Sexual Equity at the UCSB Women’s Center and the Non-Traditional Student Resource Center, said the reason behind the increase is due to the funds from Plan B not covering the costs of stocking. Thus, all the machine’s revenue goes back into funding its stock.

“It’s really hard to kind of get any finances for it because it’s just its own thing. We’re not getting any money from it. It’s a cycle,” Women’s Center Administrative Coordinator Jessica Evers, who restocks the machine, said.

Kaminski reported that 1,050 units of emergency contraception have been sold via the Wellness Vending Machine from May 2022-23. She anticipates that 350-400 units of Plan B will be sold by the end of this quarter. 

“It removes stigma”

Plan B Step-One is a morning-after emergency contraception pill, taken the day after unprotected sexual intercourse, according to Mayo Clinic. The sooner the pill is taken, which should be under 72 hours after, the more effective it is.

The advantage of the Wellness Vending Machine is its 24-hour availability and discounted prices, Kaminiski said. The vending machine is the only place in UCSB and adjacent I.V. to get birth control and other wellness products at anytime. 

Kaminiski spoke to the anonymity of the transactions, removing the stigma for students who might be scared or embarrassed to purchase Plan B or other wellness products in stores. 

“[Students] don’t have to talk to anybody. They don’t have to answer any questions. They can just go there and get what they need from the machine. It’s meant to address any possible stigma or embarrassment that might prevent somebody from being able to ask for the medical supplies that they need,” Kaminski said.

Though Plan B is the most popular product sold at the machine, its other products get fair use. From May 2022-23, 146 pregnancy tests, 60 bottles of ibuprofen and 113 single-use condoms have been sold. Last summer, 180 units of Plan B, 10 pregnancy tests and 15 single-use condoms were sold, according to Kaminiski.

Evers indicated holidays and specific events, like Deltopia, as the most popular times the machine is used. Two weeks before Halloween weekend, Evers checked the machine three times a week and took extra steps in directing students to it.  

“[It’s] not Friday. It’s always [on] Monday, because like five people an hour come in here. And they’re asking, ‘do you have a pregnancy test? ‘Plan B?’ And immediately, I say, ‘second-floor library,’” Evers said.

Campus discourse

In a Nexus survey of 84 random students at the Arbor and University Center, 45% of respondents knew about the wellness vending machine. Of those who knew of the machine, 36% did not know it sold Plan B, and 22% knew it sold Plan B but did not know the price.

There was some opposition from the campus when the vending machine project was in its development phase in 2016-17. To fund the purchase of the machine, 50 cents were allocated from the student fee budget for $11,500. One Bottom Line article, defending a pro-life position toward emergency contraceptives, criticized the use of student fees for funding the machine. 

Additionally, the Anscombe Society at UCSB, a now currently inactive organization that aims to promote traditional marriage, was in opposition to the decision, according to Intelligent Dispensing Solutions. 

Student service fees have not been directly used for the machine since the year it was established, Kaminiski said. The amount of tuition that goes toward the Women’s Center budget pays the workers who upkeep the machine. 

Kaminiski emphasized that student Equity in Mental Health funding was used to replace inoperable parts of the machine and pay for a new machine wrap last year.

Evers said a continuous issue for the machine is getting the correct supplies and funding to restock the machine’s most popular items.

“It’s kind of sad because Plan B and pregnancy tests are always empty, but the condoms are always full. Like I have maybe restocked condoms once and Plan B [I’m] constantly restocking,” Evers said. 

One anonymous student from the Nexus survey said when he tried to get Plan B from the machine, there were no supplies left. 

However, some students appreciate the option of obtaining birth control methods and contraceptives with little barriers. In the Nexus survey, 24% of those who had knowledge of the machine referred someone else to it.

“My friend was kind of in a situation so she was talking about potentially using the Plan B contraceptive vending machine in the library, and that’s how I found out about it,” undeclared second-year student Dayita Ray said.

Kaminiski hopes the machine will continue to support students for years to come. 

“Everybody that I’ve encountered has been very supportive. I think people understand the need for trying to make wellness and health care products accessible to students,” Kaminiski said.

A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Nov 9, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.