CVS will begin vaccinating residents against the novel coronavirus at pharmacies in three different Orange County cities starting next week, but the vaccination clinics are well away from the county’s hardest hit neighborhoods.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
There’s been a push from community leaders, school officials and nonprofit health centers to get public health officials to vaccinate more vulnerable, often poor communities throughout the county.
Many said the vaccine data needs to be broken down by zip codes to see which neighborhoods are being vaccinated — similar to how the county Health Care Agency reports zip code positivity data.
“I’m super glad when I hear people say we need the data — we need to know what parts of Orange County are being vaccinated,” said Latino Health Access Executive Director America Bracho. “You should be pursuing this the same way you do any deployment — you have to know how many people to put where and to do what.”
According to a Tuesday news release, the pharmacy giant is aiming to set up vaccination clinics at three separate pharmacies in Irvine, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.
None of those locations are near the hardest hit neighborhoods of Santa Ana and Anaheim. Pockets of Fullerton, Buena Park, Westminster, Garden Grove, Costa Mesa, Stanton and San Clemente have also been hit hard.
Anaheim and Santa Ana have nearly 35% of all OC’s virus cases and nearly 37% of all deaths.
Yet the two cities make up just over a fifth of OC’s 3.2 million residents.
Parts of HB are hit hard by the virus, like Oak View, a predominantly Latino neighborhood.
Latinos, while making up roughly 35% of OC’s residents, account for 44% of all virus cases and over 37% of the roughly 3,200 people killed by the virus.
But Latinos are being left behind in the vaccination efforts.
As of Monday, only 11% of the roughly 265,000 vaccinations have gone to the community, according to a vaccine tracker from the county Health Care Agency, which is updated weekly.
Bracho said there’s too much uncertainty surrounding the 11% rate and data has to be teased out before a complete picture can be painted.
“As you get the data organized, you need to get rid of health care workers, get rid of congregate care facilities and then you need to see the community at large. That’s where you’re going to see zip codes and race,” Bracho said. “So that 11% doesn’t mean anything, in other words.”
She also said officials need to do more neighborhood vaccination clinics.
The pharmacy vaccination clinics are part of a federal partnership with CVS and it’s unclear how the Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach spots were picked.
A spokesman from the California Department of Public Health said that program is being run by federal government officials.
It’s the latest example of a fractured vaccination rollout.
At a Tuesday news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the pharmacy approach would increase vaccine accessibility by making the process more like seasonal flu shots.
“The Biden administration, in partnership with pharmacies all across the nation will allow direct allocation to pharmacies for the traditional administration of vaccines,” Newsom said. “So new partnerships, partnerships that are meaningful, partnerships that are targeted, partnerships that are focused on equity.”
Yet Newsom also said state officials had to strip vaccine stockpiles from CVS for not using them.
“We are reallocating vaccines that are not being administered,” Newsom said. “170,000 were reallocated yesterday … and we sent them over, with an equity lens, to Kaiser to administer half of them specifically to low income communities. We are being more aggressive in that respect.”
Anaheim City Councilman Jose Moreno, who represents one of the hardest hit areas in OC, said officials should simply set up neighborhood vaccination clinics — similar to the virus testing clinics.
“Do a clinic at a neighborhood center and see if anybody shows up,” Moreno said in a Tuesday phone interview. “Do one at the school and see if people show up. They will. In fact, we’re hearing pretty loudly from community members in Anaheim how frustrating it is that the app is not available in Spanish. A good portion of Latino communities are trying to get an appointment and can’t get it.”
Othena still wasn’t available in other languages Wednesday.
It’s also been loudly criticized by residents since it launched three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations continue to decline.
As of Wednesday, 1,298 people were hospitalized, including 363 in intensive care units.
Deaths have been steadily increasing.
The virus has now killed 3,199 people out of 234,708 confirmed cases.
UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said he’s predicting Orange County hits 4,000 deaths before March.
The virus has already killed more than five times the flu does on a yearly average.
It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do 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.
Noymer said he worries about the new coronavirus variants found recently in Southern California, some of which could spread easier.
“So I’m very heartened by the declines we’ve seen, and long may it continue. But what could come around and upset the applecart could be one or more of these new strains taking hold.”
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio