Orange County Hospitals are launching their own coronavirus vaccination systems after the County of Orange registration program immediately stumbled into roadblocks like poor communication, outages, glitches and language barriers.
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Since OC officials rolled out the registration website and app, Othena, scores of people have complained about not being able to register to get an appointment.
Last Tuesday, county Supervisor Don Wagner publicly said Othena “sucks” during the supervisors meeting.
Many people have told Voice of OC they’ve given up and are looking to hospitals, other counties and smaller health clinics for vaccinations.
Current distribution plans call for vaccinating health care workers, nursing home residents and people over 65 years old.
“To help expedite vaccine delivery and serve our community, UCI Health began immunizing its patients and UCI employees and emeriti who qualify under the plan. Now, our health team is stepping up to help Orange County vaccinate the next tier of eligible residents and workers.” reads a Jan. 19 update from UC Irvine Office of the Chancellor.
UCI isn’t alone.
St. Joseph Hospital, St. Jude Medical Center and Mission Hospital are vaccinating their senior patients.
But the required vaccination appointments are booked out for weeks, due to overwhelming demand.
“We know how frustrating finding available appointments can be. We are adding approximately 9,000 new appointments to our schedule each week, so please check the website often. We can only build out appointments for six weeks. As one week ends, we add a new week to the end of the schedule,” reads Providence’s website, the parent company.
Hospitals and counties across the state are hamstrung by the lack of a steady vaccine supply from federal officials.
Kaiser Permanente is also vaccinating people, but the health provider had to tweak distribution plans to focus on the most vulnerable because of limited vaccine supplies.
“While the State has increased eligibility to those who are age 65 or older, our current vaccine supply is limited. We are following state guidelines and prioritizing those patients in this group who are at increased risk. Due to this limited supply, we will be reaching out to members 75 years or older, as appointments become available,” reads Kaiser’s website.
Santa Ana has also been hosting vaccination clinics for Anaheim and Santa Ana residents over 65 years old.
The two cities, with large Latino communities, have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
Anaheim and Santa Ana have nearly 35% OC’s roughly quarter million 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.
Latinos, while making up roughly 35% of OC’s residents, account for 44% of all virus cases and 38% of the roughly 3,100 people killed by the virus.
Meanwhile, 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.
That proportion of vaccines hasn’t budged since the end of last year, according to the supplemental agenda for the county Board of Supervisors at their regular public meeting last Tuesday.
In comparison, whites received 42% of the vaccine, up from 35% last year. Whites make up over 38% of OC’s population, 37% of deaths and nearly 25% of cases.
Asian and Pacific Islanders account for 28% of vaccines, down from 33% last year. They account for over 21% of OC’s population, 19% of virus deaths and over 11% of cases.
OC Health Care Agency Research Director, Dr. Curtis Condon, said the vaccine tracker offers data from a host of vaccination points.
“The totals include vaccines administered by hospitals, clinics, and health systems like Kaiser and UCI Health,” Condon said in a Tuesday email.
Disproportionate vaccinations is also an issue state officials are trying to tackle.
“Equity continues to be one of the key efforts around our entire pandemic response as well as vaccinations,” said Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, at a Tuesday news conference.
He also state officials will be looking to do smaller vaccination sites to get more people from vulnerable communities vaccinated.
“People who work long days on the frontlines of essential places … need some options in other locations,” Ghaly said.
At last Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting, OC Health Care Agency Director and health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau said a similar vaccination program will be rolled out in the county.
Yet Chau didn’t give specifics.
Ghaly addressed criticism that a focus on equal vaccine distribution will slow down the overall process.
“This is not a choice, this is a false choice. We can do both,” Ghaly said.
Yet California is behind many states, like Florida, on vaccinations per 100,000 residents, according to a CDC vaccine tracker.
The state is doing slightly better than Texas on per capita vaccine distribution.
There’s still no statewide data on who’s been getting vaccinated in the Golden State.
“Stay tuned. I’m not exactly sure when we’ll be releasing it. We want to make sure we’re going to be releasing as complete a picture as we can,” Ghaly said.
Ghaly also mentioned some potential payments to health care providers and clinics as an incentive to vaccinate the hardest hit communities.
But Ghaly offered very few specifics.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations continued to decrease.
As of Tuesday, 1,330 people were hospitalized, including 370 in intensive care units.
While hospitals are thinning out, deaths continue to increase.
The virus has now killed 3,162, including 53 new deaths reported Tuesday, according to the county Health Care Agency.
Newly reported deaths could stretch back weeks due to reporting delays.
The virus has already killed more than five times as many people than 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, along with local epidemiologists, worry new virus strains could kick off another wave.
“The chance for another surge in California is real. It’s still circulating — COVID in our communities. Our case rates are down, but they’re not low,” Ghaly said.
He said the more infectious UK strain has been found in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside counties.
“Variants of course create another wildcard, another unknown. Those that are more infectious because they bind to the human cell a little bit more and they get into our cells and begin to replicate … those are real concerns.”
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