While Orange County’s Latino community has so far received only 11% of the coronavirus vaccines, county officials said the true number and demographics of people vaccinated are pretty much up in the air at this point.
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.
At Tuesday’s OC Supervisors public meeting, Supervisor Don Wagner asked questions about a Voice of OC article published yesterday, which showed San Diego County vaccinating at roughly twice the pace as OC.
According to Orange County’s vaccine tracker, roughly 242,000 people out of the approximately 3.2 million residents, have received at least one dose of the two-part vaccine — roughly 7.5% of the county’s population. A total of 288,000 shots have been administered.
OC’s tracker is updated weekly and was updated last Thursday.
San Diego County’s vaccine tracker, which is updated daily, doesn’t give data on how many residents the county’s vaccinated out of the roughly 3.3 million people who live there, but it states roughly 14.1% of the county’s population has received at least one of the 503,000 shots administered.
OC Health Care Agency Director and health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, said Orange County’s rate is higher after a recent influx of vaccinations.
“So a week ago on Sunday, there have been over 300,000 people in Orange County who have gotten the vaccine,” Chau told Wagner. “More than 10%, for sure.”
Wagner said he wanted to clarify the vaccine data publicly to avoid any confusion.
“Why are we below San Diego? What can we do to fix that? Or is it just a resource issue?” he said.
Chau said San Diego County has more health care workers than OC, which front loaded vaccine numbers in the beginning.
That’s starting to change after state guidelines expanded vaccinations to everyone 65 and older, he said.
“So gradually we’ve seen that we have a few more thousand allocations to us and San Diego has a few less thousand,” Chau said. “When we have plenty of vaccine, all of this will be a moot point.”
Nearly 16% of San Diego County’s vaccines have gone to the Latino community and 2.1% to the Black community, compared to 11% and 1% in OC, respectively, according to the counties’ vaccine trackers.
Chau told Wagner the current vaccination numbers are still unreliable.
“There’s no right or wrong, Supervisor. Because the data is very confusing,” Chau said. “Everybody’s trying our best to reconcile our number. We believe — Orange County’s not alone — most of the counties believe the number reported in the state system is incorrect, it’s underreported.”
The confusion on who exactly is getting vaccinated comes as state officials are rolling out their own vaccine registration website, called MyTurn.
It’s unclear if data collected from OC’s vaccine app and website, Othena, will be able to integrate into the state system.
Chau said he spoke with Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly about the issue.
“I told him look I got over 600,000 seniors enrolled in Othena. I’m not going to ask them to re-enroll in MyTurn. So you need to figure out a way for us to integrate and work together.”
Meanwhile, Supervisors and county officials are pushing the state to provide zip code data so the Health Care Agency can pinpoint where vaccines are going and reallocate doses to the hardest hit residents.
“We’re not getting zip codes and other pieces of data we need to have at the local level to figure out our plan to roll out vaccinations to vulnerable populations,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.
Chau said the best data they have is from the local app.
“So 90% of the people who have gotten the vaccine do not have a zip code attached to it. So we’re in conversation with the state right now on what happened there,” Chau said. “The only correct data system we can look to is Othena.”
Wagner said he’s ready to reallocate vaccines to the hardest hit areas in OC.
“I am supportive that we generally move resources to the human beings in this county who are the most hard hit,” Wagner said. “Because the science tells me that’s where to go.”
Further compounding vaccine rollout woes is the distribution system.
Hospitals receive about 80% of vaccines and the county gets the remaining 20% to use at supersites or smaller vaccination programs.
“It seems to me maybe our own outreach is not directed to where it could be. We keep saying ‘Go see your health provider.’ But that’s not a very good direction. If 80% of the vaccine is sitting out there somewhere and we’re only promoting our 20%, there’s something wrong in the messaging. I think more information as to where they’re vaccinating, or how people could access this other 80% would be something we need to do,” Supervisor Doug Chaffee said.
Chau said Health Care Agency officials have to check with every hospital distributing vaccines to get accurate vaccination numbers.
Part of the effort is to make sure all vaccines are put in people’s arms within a week of receiving the doses, or else state officials will reallocate the vaccines, Chau said.
Santa Ana city councilmembers have been calling on county officials to set up vaccine sites in the hard-hit city.
In a letter to Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do, Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said the city is ready to roll as soon as they get vaccines.
“On behalf of the City of Santa Ana, I write to you today to express my concerns that our city, one of Orange County’s hardest hit communities during the present pandemic, is not receiving a sufficient amount of COVID-19 vaccines for its residents. We are especially concerned about the City’s seniors and non- or limited-English speakers who have been disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic,” Sarmiento said in a Feb. 4 letter.
The city already has funding and potential vaccine sites, he said.
“The City Council has set aside funding, as well as secured potential sites and staffing to assist with vaccine delivery. We are confident that with our assistance we can help the County improve its health equity metric,” Sarmiento said.
Do said they’re in the process of setting up a site at Santa Ana College and the county is teaming up with OCTA and Abrazar, a Westminster-based community organization aimed at helping take care of OC’s most vulnerable seniors.
Do said the partnerships are needed “in order to provide free transportation to seniors who cannot get to the pods because that’s part of the difficulty people face.”
Officials are also planning to set up a vaccination site at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove.
“We do know that our certain ethnic groups that are part of Catholic families have high hesitancy in vaccines,” Chau said. We are in conversation with the Christ Cathedral to set up a medium pod there.”
The Vatican is urging people to get the vaccine.
“All vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal co-operation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” the Vatican said in a December statement.
Vatican officials said the coronavirus vaccines are for the “common good.”
“In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed,” reads the statement.
While county officials try to get accurate vaccine distribution information, OC’s hospitalizations continue to drop.
As of Tuesday, 1,058 people were hospitalized, including 324 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
Yet deaths continue to increase.
The virus has now killed 3,416 people, including 33 new deaths reported Tuesday.
Newly reported deaths can stretch back weeks due to reporting delays.
Since February began, the Health Care Agency has reported 307 new deaths.
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.
Chau said the most at-risk group of being killed by the virus, seniors, are becoming increasingly vaccinated.
“We have vaccinated over 100,000 individuals that are 65 and older,” Chau told county supervisors.
But they need to focus on the hardest hit areas before expanding vaccine eligibility, Chau said.
“Mainly the zip codes in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove have a higher percentage of dying from COVID if they get it,” Chau said, adding officials need to “pay attention to vaccinate our seniors in those areas. And those areas just happen to have a larger Latino population.”
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