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While Orange County officials keep promoting a massive coronavirus vaccination program, questions remain over how many doses will actually flow into the county from state allocations.
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State public health officials have yet to answer questions about a potential timeframe or schedule of how many doses are expected to arrive in OC.
Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t have a clear answer at a Friday news conference.
“Our resolve is to get all of the existing doses that are in this state administered as quickly and efficiently as possible. And we still have a lot of work to do in that space,” Newsom said, adding the state has received roughly 3 million doses.
“We have hundreds of thousands more we anticipate receiving,” Newsom said, but didn’t say when the vaccines would be coming.
Meanwhile, county health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said the county is trying to set up five vaccination supersites around the county with the hopes of each site vaccinating 8,000 people a day — a total of 40,000 people once OC can get the required vaccine stocks.
That’s 280,000 doses needed a week to get the sites fully operational.
Disneyland was the first of the five sites to open this week in an elaborate public relations rollout.
Yet the website and mobile phone application used by the County of Orange to register people for vaccinations, Othena, has been plagued by crashes from overloaded servers due to the sky high demand from residents and people who work in OC.
Although the registration site and app was sporadically down throughout the week, it was back up and running by Friday morning.
Questions and concerns have been raised by some disabled people who aren’t able to go to Disneyland to get vaccinated.
“It’s just not possible for people who have mobility issues. It’s stunning. I‘ve called the health department several times,” said Amy Applebaum, a 59-year-old disabled Fullerton resident.
While Applebaum doesn’t qualify for the initial rounds of the two-part vaccinations, she worries how she’ll get the shots once it’s her turn.
“When I keep bringing up the disabled, they just have no idea what to tell me,” she said. “It’s stunning. It’s like we don’t exist.”
Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who’s been part of the county’s vaccine rollout efforts, said officials are aware of the issue.
“It’s very difficult at the moment, we just don’t have enough to go around. So we ask that they be patient, but check with their own physician and let them know the pharmacies are actually vaccinating people,” Chaffee said in a Friday phone interview.
He also said there’s mobile vaccination efforts.
“But they don’t have very much (vaccine supply),” Chaffee said.
Applebaum said her doctor doesn’t know how to get her vaccinated.
“They tell you to call your doctors, the doctors don’t know anything. The whole thing is beyond comprehension,” she said. “I have a letter from St. Jude saying I won’t survive COVID.”
There’s also questions being raised from people who have parents in nursing homes.
One OC resident said they’ve been trying to get their mother a vaccine since last year, but isn’t sure when it will hit the nursing home.
“I can tell you that it has been very worrisome, terrifying to a degree. There has been some communication on it, then it kind of stopped,” the resident said in a Friday phone interview. “I thought they were going to get it by the end of the year.”
The resident didn’t want to be named because they fear it could jeopardize care for their mother.
“So both LA County and in the Inland Empire, I know someone whose parents have been vaccinated. A while ago,” they said. “It’s scary for everybody who’s high risk and they’re the top tier.”
Health care workers and residents in nursing homes are the top priority.
OC, along with the federal and state public health officials, bumped up everyone 65 years and older into the top tier earlier this week.
“The highest risk, most vulnerable population — for them not to have the vaccines and then for it to be opened up for 65 and older, I just find this outrageous and almost criminal,” the resident said.
State and local health departments partnered with Walgreens and CVS to distribute the vaccines in nursing homes.
At a Wednesday news conference, Chau said he doesn’t know exactly what’s going on with the nursing home vaccinations.
“There is federal allotment that comes to the pharmacies that are vaccinating the long term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities,” Chau said. “And we at the county level have no access to what those levels are.”
He said they’re working on getting a look into the issue.
“From a county perspective we would like to see what is the total doses that are being allocated to the various entities,” Chau said.
While county leadership hasn’t officially announced the four other locations, Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi told Voice of OC last week that county officials are eying Knott’s Berry Farm, the Orange County Fairgrounds, The Great Park and Soka University.
Chi sits on the county vaccine task force.
Meanwhile, bodies are piling up as county officials try to tackle vaccination obstacles and people are scrambling to register an inoculation appointment.
On Friday, the Health Care Agency reported 82 new deaths — a record daily increase, so far.
Newly reported deaths can stretch back weeks due to reporting delays.
The virus has now killed 2,277 people out of 205,911 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
The agency has reported 376 people killed by the virus since the year began.
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.
Hospitalizations have been slightly decreasing since last week.
As of Friday, 2,101 people were hospitalized, including 534 in intensive care units.
But OC has maintained a high average of new daily cases.
The Health Care Agency reported an additional 3,158 new cases Friday.
And OC has been averaging roughly 3,500 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 over 2,900 more people could be hospitalized in the upcoming weeks as hospitals are discharging stabilized patients as quickly as possible.
OC nurses have been holding hands while many people die alone because families aren’t allowed into virus units due to hospital protocols.
In a Wednesday phone interview, registered nurse Choi Bagnol, who works at Kaiser medical center in Irvine, said watching people die alone is “heartbreaking.”
“I believe that nobody should die alone. We made it a point where a patient is in comfort care and they’re waiting to pass, we stay there as their heart rate goes down. We stay there and hold their hands as they take their last breath.”
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
Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story.