Disparities on Coronavirus infections, testing, treatment and now vaccines seems to be a persistent part of Orange County’s Covid response since the pandemic took hold last March.
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The county’s central core has consistently experienced the roughest impacts, with Latino and Asian communities disproportionately impacted by infections and deaths.
With a similar trend now on vaccines, community leaders want to understand why.
Tonight, Latino Health Access will be hosting a virtual town hall with Orange County Health Care Agency director Dr. Clayton Chau about getting more coronavirus vaccinations to the county’s Latino community.
Tonight’s 6 pm digital meetup comes after a wave of concerns about vaccine distribution inequities from community health organization leaders, school district officials and some city councilmembers in Santa Ana and Anaheim.
Click here to join the Zoom meeting.
As of Monday, only 11% of the roughly 265,000 vaccinations have gone to the Latino community, according to a vaccine tracker from the county Health Care Agency, which is updated weekly.
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
The town hall comes after an abrupt Zoom meeting with Chau and a coalition of Orange County nonprofit health clinics earlier this week, largely led by America Bracho, executive director of Latino Health Access.
Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento, who was at the Tuesday Zoom meeting with Chau, brought the disproportionate vaccine distribution up the City Council meeting this week.
“One of the things I think is really disturbing is our health equity metrics is low in the county, those most impacted, especially Latinos here, are not really getting vaccinated at the rate they should be,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento has been pressuring county officials to put a site in Santa Ana.
“We’re still seeing our people dying at a very high rate compared to the rest of the county,” Sarmiento said. ”We need a vaccine site here. We can call it a moderate site or subsite — doesn’t need to be a superpod, but some sort of secondary site that provides these vaccines to our residents.”
State and local public health officials have been pushing for vaccination equity, but the roll out has largely been targeted to super sites, like Disneyland or Soka University, which are hard for many people to reach.
Click here to read how OC’s community organizations are fighting for vaccines for the county’s most vulnerable populations.
During the Zoom meeting, Sarmiento said county CEO Frank Kim noticed there weren’t many Latinos at the Disneyland vaccination supersite.
“The demographic really doesn’t fit those that are most disproportionately impacted, even to his own admission,” Sarmiento said.
Orange County’s vaccine registration website and app, Othena, has been plagued by glitches and outages.
Othena’s website was finally available in Spanish as of Thursday — three weeks after it was launched.
The $1.2 million contract for the app calls for Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean translations.
State vaccine distribution guidelines prioritize health care workers, nursing home residents and people 65 years and older.
The subsequent tiers call for certain age ranges and people working in retail, certain manufacturing jobs, inmates and homeless people.
But that could change any day now.
During Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, Chau said the state is reevaluating its distribution plans.
“The state is changing to no longer those phases — 1a, 1b, 1c — that you heard about,” Chau said. “It’s going to move to a strictly aged-based framework. It will start out maintaining 65 and older and then go down a notch.”
Chau noted even that could change because of the fluid situation.
The state’s proposed changes could force counties to vaccinate the poorest residents, who are impacted the hardest by the virus due to overcrowded housing, lack of health care access and the inability to work from home.
And those efforts could determine how many vaccines counties can get.
“The state’s still sitting on it, not sure on what percentage of vaccinations you should have in your lowest census tract. And then based on your achievement, the state will allocate vaccine,” Chau said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t mentioned any changes during his two news conferences this week.
Some on the state vaccine task force are pushing to get vaccinations to the hardest hit areas.
“There are a lot of options that are out there and there are a lot of strategies … the big recommendation is for California to use a place-based approach, look at the areas and zip codes hardest hit by COVID,” said Joel Jenkins, senior community advocacy coordinator for the Sacramento-based California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.
The network’s executive director sits on the state vaccine task force.
Jenkins said vulnerable and poor residents throughout the state haven’t been able to get enough vaccines.
“It really comes back to the fact that there needs to be a far better rollout with linguistic and cultural competency. It’s across so many different languages and ethnicities. Something I’m not noticing there’s a lot of conversation about is that it extends to folks that in the disability community,” Jenkins said.
Some disabled seniors have emailed Voice of OC to voice their concerns about trying to wait in line at the Disneyland supersite.
As of Thursday, the Soka University site will use drive-thru vaccinations for disabled people, but they need the state-issued placard for their rear view mirrors.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations have been dropping.
As of Friday, 1,233 people were hospitalized, including 342 in intensive care units.
But deaths have been steadily rising.
The pandemic has now killed 3,279 people, including 30 new deaths reported today, according to the county Health Care Agency.
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 23,883 people dead as of December, 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.
Latino Health Access and other community health organizations are slated to begin vaccinating residents at sites in OC’s hardest hit cities of Anaheim and Santa Ana next week, Bracho said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Now with a steady flow of vaccines, Bracho said it should be easier to register people for the vaccination appointments.
“Now we can put the machine to work on an ongoing basis and again the schools have access to people that are 65 and older.”
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