Orange County’s coronavirus deaths are sharply increasing as local public health officials are pushing out a massive vaccination effort, while the overwhelming demand is causing delays in vaccination registration.
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Since January began, the OC Health Care Agency has reported 604 people killed by the virus. Those deaths, reported in daily batches, can stretch back weeks because of reporting delays.
The virus has now killed 2,477 people out of 214,808 confirmed cases, including 110 deaths reported Tuesday, according to the OC Health Care Agency.
Tuesday’s batch of deaths span Monday and Tuesday because officials didn’t update numbers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Increasing deaths forced some hospitals to store bodies on freezer trucks because their morgues are full.
Meanwhile, Santa Ana winds closed OC’s first vaccination supersite at Disneyland Tuesday.
“Due to high wind warnings issued by the National Weather Service for Orange County, the Disneyland Super POD site will be closed on Tuesday,” reads a Tuesday tweet from the county Health Care Agency.
People who had vaccination appointments today are slated to be rescheduled through the website and mobile application, Othena.
Since Othena was launched last week, scores of people have struggled with delays in registration and confirmation for a vaccination appointment. The app and website have also experienced outages.
According to the county Health Care Agency, more than 250,000 people have registered for the vaccine and roughly 32,000 vaccines have been administered through the service.
Another vaccination roadblock was hit after officials pulled a batch of Moderna vaccines from distribution after some people had allergic reactions.
“A higher-than-usual number of possible allergic reactions were reported with a specific lot of Moderna vaccine administered at one community vaccination clinic. Fewer than 10 individuals required medical attention over the span of 24 hours,” state health officer Dr. Erica Pan said in a Sunday statement.
Pan said over 330,000 doses of the batch have been delivered to California.
“Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna,” reads Pan’s statement.
County health officials heeded the warning and hit the brakes on the Moderna vaccine batch.
“Based on directive from the State, the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) has suspended the use of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine lot 041L20A due to possible allergic reactions under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the manufacturer,” reads a Monday news release from county officials.
The news release didn’t say how many vaccines will be pulled from distribution.
Of the thousands who received the Moderna vaccine, nobody suffered an allergic reaction locally, according to the Monday news release.
“According to the State vaccine registry, 5,217 individuals in Orange County received the Moderna vaccine lot 041L20A. To determine if you received the subject vaccine lot, please refer to your vaccination card,” states the release.
While officials are pushing vaccinations, bodies keep piling up.
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.
While hospitalizations have been declining for the past week and a half, positivity rates have remained high.
As of Tuesday, nearly one in five people are testing positive for the virus — a 19.5% positivity rate.
And nearly one in four people in OC’s poorest neighborhoods are testing positive for the virus.
State public health officials estimate roughly 12% of all newly infected people could be hospitalized within three weeks.
OC’s daily case average decreased also, with the county averaging about 2,700 new cases a day — down from over 3,200 a week ago.
On Tuesday, there were 2,007 people hospitalized, including 523 in intensive care units.
In an intricate public relations rollout, OC officials opened up the Disneyland vaccination supersite last week — the first of five planned supersites.
County health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said he’s looking to get each of the five sites to vaccinate 8,000 people a day, for a total of 40,000 people combined.
That means OC will need 280,000 doses of the two-part vaccine a week.
County public health officials are aiming to hit herd immunity — vaccinate at least 70% of OC’s population — by July 4.
So far, the over 108,000 doses have been administered, according to the OC Health Care Agency.
A majority, roughly 80%, were given to the hospitals, aimed at vaccinating frontline health care workers, Chau said at a news conference last week.
As of Sunday, the Disneyland supersite was averaging more than 3,000 vaccinations a day.
State health officials haven’t said when California will receive the millions of doses required to hit herd immunity.
And the federal government doesn’t have a stockpile of vaccines, according to various news reports over the weekend.
At a Tuesday news conference, Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, said over 1.5 million doses have been administered out of the roughly 3.2 million allocated to California.
Ghaly said the manufacturers ship directly to counties, hospitals and pharmacies through a complicated process.
“There’s a whole process for allocation from the federal government to the state… they (counties and hospitals) put in orders (to the state) and then those orders are sent to the CDC and then ultimately shipped later in the week. So it’s a pretty elaborate process over the course of many days when an allocation has been made and when it ships.”
For more details on the COVID-19 vaccine in Orange County view our Voice of OC information page: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio