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Concerns are being raised over how elderly, disabled and non-English speaking Orange County residents can access the coronavirus vaccine, while a rising number of residents are complaining about repeated website glitches while trying to register for the vaccination.
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For the second day in a row, Orange County’s first coronavirus vaccination supersite at Disneyland was closed because of the Santa Ana winds, forcing some people to wait longer before getting vaccinated.
“Can everybody get to that site? What about those who are disabled? What about those whose English is not their primary language?,” said Bernadette Boden-Albala, dean of Public Health at UC Irvine.
Boden-Albala also sits on the county’s vaccine task force and said she’s going to be raising her concerns at the task force’s meeting tomorrow.
“Have we really done broad information and discussion with our communities — especially vulnerable communities?” she said.
Othena, the county’s vaccination registration service, has been plagued by outages and glitches since officials launched it last week.
It also doesn’t offer other languages, despite having a drop down menu in the app. There’s no visible language option on the website either.
Scores of residents have been reaching out to Voice of OC, raising concerns about the app.
JoAnn Arvizu, a 71-year-old Huntington Beach resident, said she was having trouble getting appointments for her husband and herself last week.
She was also concerned about the Disneyland vaccination site, the first of OC’s five planned supersites.
“This format that they’re using is actually putting the elderly in more of a situation that they’re actually going to get it. There’s going to be people in those lines that might have COVID,” Arvizu said. “They could be asymptomatic standing in line, two feet away from you.”
The current vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have to be administered in two separate shots.
While the first shot offers some protection against the virus, the second dose pushes efficacy rates to roughly 95%.
“The fact that there are people in their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s in Orange County that don’t have the vaccine yet is a major problem and I’m very worried about only using super POD sites,” Boden-Albala said.
Arvizu said the current vaccination plan is scaring her friends.
“It is actually scaring some people away, the elderly people,” She said. “Some elderly people couldn’t stand in line that long.”
By Wednesday, Arvizu said she’d given up trying to get a vaccine in Orange County because she was still unable to register for a vaccination appointment. Over the past week, she’s been setting alarms to wake up at different times before 8 a.m. in an effort to get registered for the vaccination.
“As far as the website, it still leaves a lot to be desired and I think it’s really stressing a lot of people out, including myself,” she said. “We just need to get some more leadership.”
Arvizu said she’s looking to see if the vaccination site at the Long Beach Convention Center will vaccinate her and her husband.
UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert Sanghyuk Shin said the vaccine rollout troubles start at the top.
“It’s an extremely complicated — logistically and administratively — task to roll out vaccines fast and to make sure people who are prioritized are indeed provided access first and foremost. That said, the federal government clearly wasn’t on top of putting processes on whereby vaccines could be rolled out in a logical and systematic manner,” Shin said in a Tuesday phone interview.
Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said counties have to place an order with the state, then state officials send the request to the CDC for approval before the vaccine manufacturers ship anything out.
Officials are also sorting through logistical problems, he said.
“The complexities of this vaccine rollout are real. The cold chain storage, the refrigeration/freezer storage is a real important operational detail that is being worked through,” Ghaly said at a Tuesday news conference.
Some counties are also running low on vaccine supplies and Ghaly didn’t say when more will be coming to the state.
“Whatever they have in terms of vaccine is being planned to use now and some are pretty close to being out of additional vaccine now. That’s why we continue to work with our federal partners,” he said.
Over the weekend, various news reports found the federal government doesn’t have any vaccine reserves left.
While additional vaccine supplies are being figured out by state and federal health officials, Boden-Albala said OC should be revamping its vaccination efforts to reach the vulnerable communities.
“I’m really worried about the very groups that have the highest rates of positivity for COVID — the essential workers, the elderly. Do we have a really targeted approach for those vulnerable populations? That’s critical. That’s needed and we should be doing that now while we’re waiting for this vaccine,” she said.
Boden-Albala also said the county should be utilizing the scores of nonprofit community organizations throughout OC more, like the Santa Ana-based Latino Health Access, to help promote the vaccine and get people registered for vaccinations.
“We have to do a multi-pronged approach to vaccinate everybody in our county,” she said.
Meanwhile, coronavirus hospitalizations have decreased slightly.
As of Wednesday, 1,975 people were hospitalized, including 527 in intensive care units.
But deaths are steadily increasing.
The virus has now killed 2,508 people out of 216,509 confirmed cases, including 31 new deaths reported today, according to the county Health Care Agency.
Newly reported deaths can stretch back weeks due to reporting delays.
The agency has reported 635 people killed by the virus since January began.
The virus has already killed more than four times as many people as the flu does on a yearly average.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Orange County has already surpassed its yearly average 20,000 deaths, with 21,110 people dead as of November, according to the latest available state data.
It’s a difficult virus for the medical community to tackle because some people don’t show any symptoms, yet can still spread it. Others feel slight symptoms, like fatigue and a mild fever.
Others end up in ICUs for days and weeks before making it out, while other people eventually die from the virus.
UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said at this rate, OC could hit 4,000 deaths before March.
“If we extrapolate from the past seven days’ mortality, we’ll hit 4,000 in 25 days. So before March 1,” Noymer said, adding fluctuating trends could change the time frame, but “we will see 4,000 deaths sooner or later.”
For more details on the COVID-19 vaccine in Orange County view our Voice of OC information page: http://bit.ly/occovidvaccine.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio