Efforts to increase coronavirus vaccinations to Orange County’s hardest hit areas look to be working after various community groups and clinics fought for months to bolster supplies.
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At Tuesday’s Santa Ana City Council meeting, Assistant to the City Manager Daisy Perez said there were 50 vaccination sites within 10 miles of city hall.
“The federal state and county governments are all working conversely with us to bring vaccines to Santa Ana,” Perez said during the city’s COVID update.
A coalition of local health centers, community organizations, city council members and school districts in hard-hit areas have been pushing state and county officials to bring more vaccines into the hard hit neighborhoods.
“I think because of your voices and our collective voices, it really made a difference,” Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said.
“I was at the Southwest Senior Center on Saturday, and it really is moving to see somebody get vaccinated and walk out the door. People get teared up, people get emotional. And it is emotional to see that as well,” he said.
UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert Daniel Parker said the community partnership between the county Health Care Agency and various community organizations has been key to not only lowering positivity rates, but bolstering vaccinations to the disproportionately impacted areas.
“The work between the county Health Care Agency and the cities and Latino Health Access, the [Orange County Coalition of Community Health Centers], the school districts has been super important,” Parker said.
Parker’s worked with all of the various entities and said it might be the most local collaboration to address health issues ever.
“This is better cooperation with these groups than what they’ve seen, maybe ever. So it’s positive,” he said.
Santa Ana and Anaheim are the hardest hit cities in Orange County.
The two cities make up over 20% of the county’s 3.2 million residents and have 34% of cases and 35% of deaths.
Most of Santa Ana’s residents are Latino and over half of Anaheim’s residents are Latino, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Countywide, Latinos have been hit the hardest.
The community makes up 35% of Orange County’s population, has 46% of cases and 38% of deaths.
Pockets of Garden Grove, Westminster, Buena Park, Fullerton, San Juan Capistrano and other areas have been hit hard too.
Since the pandemic began, various public health experts and frontline infectious disease doctors have told Voice of OC the disproportionate impact to the working class, often Latino neighborhoods, stem from overcrowded housing, lack of access to health care and not having the ability to work from home.
Although vaccine distribution data hasn’t been updated since the beginning of the month due to a state reporting error, numerous health clinic leaders have said vaccines have been increasing to the hardest hit neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, Blue Shield is expected to take over the statewide vaccine supply chain and some local concerns have been addressed.
Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers, said some local health clinics have been offered some contracts by Blue Shield.
Contracts are required to stay in the vaccine pipeline.
Although, Becerra said not enough contracts have been offered to the 23 local clinics and she’s worried that could disrupt the community vaccination effort.
“Which leads to my concern for losing that structure and collaboration should not all of the health centers get that contract from Blue Shield. We actually have five out of our 23 members that have received an offer for a contract. I don’t understand the methodology, but I’m glad to see iit moving,” she said.
Becerra submitted a list of all the community clinics who are vaccinating people to Blue Shield weeks ago.
She’s said there’s concerns about how they’re picking who gets a contract.
“I’m not discouraged, I just don’t understand what the methodology is. But if I knew that everyone would get one, I would feel more comfortable,” Becerra said.
Hospitalizations have been slowly dropping, following a Winter wave that saw over 2,200 people hospitalized in early January.
As of Thursday, 213 people were in hospitals, including 49 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
But deaths continue increasing.
The virus has now killed 4,522 people, including 11 new deaths reported today.
That’s more than eight times the flu kills on a yearly average.
Virus deaths are now in the ballpark of average yearly cancer deaths in OC.
It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively.
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.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Santa Ana City Clerk gave the city’s COVID update.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio