Orange County seniors 65 years and older can now get coronavirus vaccinations following county public health officials bumping the vulnerable group up on the priority tiers.
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County public health officer and Director of OC Health Care Agency Dr. Clayton Chau said an emergency vaccine task force meeting was held Sunday night.
READ: For more details on the COVID-19 vaccine in Orange County view our Voice of OC vaccine page that is constantly updated and has links of where to register for an appointment: http://bit.ly/occovidvaccine.
“Almost all of them signed onto that call Sunday night,” Chau said at the County Supervisors public virus update Tuesday. “We will start to vaccinate seniors of the age of 65 and above in Orange County, adding them to the Tier 1a.”
Healthcare workers and first responders are also listed in that tier.
The new push for seniors comes after widespread criticism of slow vaccinations, not just in OC, but across the state.
After seeing a slow roll out state public health officials called local health departments up and down the state, warning them to increase vaccination efforts or risk losing some of their doses.
“The state was in a state of panic,” Chau said.
Chau told Supervisors Orange County received additional doses from other counties “who can not do it quick enough.”
“So we had 170,000 doses allocated to us. We left nothing,” Chau said. “Because we left nothing at the state, the state, this morning, just gave us 6,000 more doses.”
The renewed vaccination efforts also come after concerns from local doctors, dentists, nurses, medical assistance and other health care workers not connected to hospitals.
Hospital workers were the first to start the two-part vaccination process last month, when OC received the vaccines.
Chau said seniors should contact their primary care physicians to help set up appointments to start the vaccinations.
“We have a pharmacy vendor who is working with us, free of charge,” Chau said.
According to a news release at the end of last year, hundreds of elderly care facilities are slated to get vaccines.
“The program will enable counties to leverage CVS and Walgreens pharmacy staff to administer the vaccine more broadly with pharmacy staff going directly to care facilities. Skilled Nursing Facilities will receive vaccine from staff from CVS and Walgreens. Approximately 72 skilled nursing facilities and 900 residential care facilities for the elderly will be provided vaccine by CVS and Walgreens throughout Orange County,” reads the release.
Chau said county officials are also looking to set up smaller vaccination sites for the vulnerable population who shouldn’t be around large crowds.
The efforts to vaccinate the seniors come after scores of elderly readers have been raising their concerns about getting their first doses through emails to Voice of OC.
Meanwhile, medical workers are being vaccinated at three sites across the county, including the Orange County Fire Authority headquarters in Irvine.
Eligible workers — doctors, nurses and medical assistants — have to register an appointment time beforehand, there’s no walk ups.
The sites are estimated to vaccinate 800 to 1,000 people a day, according to county Health Care Agency officials in a Tuesday email.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no appointments were available.
“Please check back regularly,” the website stated.
Disneyland is slated to become the first of five vaccination supersites.
Last week, Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi told Voice of OC the other large vaccination sites will be at Knott’s Berry Farm, the Orange County Fairgrounds, The Great Park and Soka University.
Chau said “it’s rumored” the federal government is slated to send more vaccines to California.
But at a Tuesday news conference, Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, didn’t give specifics on when more vaccines will hit the state.
Ghaly said they’ll announce the “prospect of getting additional vaccine supplies in the days to come.”
The state has set a goal of 1 million new vaccinations by the end of the week.
Orange County public health officials have set a goal of herd immunity by the 4th of July — meaning 70%, or over 2.2 million people, will have to be vaccinated by then to meet that goal.
Chau said the five large vaccination sites need to administer roughly 8,000 doses a day if OC is to meet the July 4 goal.
There’s still no timeframe on when the large sites will open.
“We will roll it out based on the amount of vaccine we can get into Orange County. So we’re not going to open them all up if the vaccine is not available,” Chau said.
While officials are vying for more vaccines, the county’s hospitalizations decreased slightly.
As of Tuesday, 2,200 people were hospitalized, including 535 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
“Currently its highest ever number of people in the hospital compared to our summer surge,” Chau said at Tuesday’s Supervisors meeting.
Hospitalization trends look to be stabilizing somewhat this week, after the daily numbers kept shattering records for at least a month straight.
But deaths have been increasing.
The virus has now killed 2,148 people out of 195,685 confirmed cases, including 28 new deaths reported Tuesday.
Newly reported deaths can stretch back for weeks due to reporting delays.
Over the past week, 222 new deaths have been reported.
OC also saw 3,824 new cases reported Tuesday.
The county has been averaging over 3,300 new cases a day for the past week.
State public health officials estimate roughly 12% of all newly infected people end up hospitalized within three weeks.
That means there could be over 2,700 more people hospitalized in the coming weeks as hospitals are discharging stabilized patients as fast as possible.
The virus has already killed more than three 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.
Ghaly said early data indicate the long-feared holiday surge isn’t as bad officials initially thought, but said it’s still too early to tell if cases stemming from the holiday season will create another spike on top of a spike.
“We do still expect there to be a bump up in the middle of the month.”
READ: For more details on the COVID-19 vaccine in Orange County view our Voice of OC information page that is constantly updated and has links of where to register for an appointment: http://bit.ly/occovidvaccine.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio