Orange County Supervisors decided on Tuesday to become part of Blue Shield’s coronavirus vaccine distribution network, which also means the county’s vaccine registration software, Othena, is likely to stick around. 

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County Health Care Agency DIrector and OC health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, said the move would allow county officials to continue getting shots to the hardest hit neighborhoods. 

“On the Blue Shield contract, there are more opportunities for us to work closer with Blue Shield as it relates to the equity piece,” Chau said at the county supervisors public Tuesday meeting. 

Chau also said he expects OC can move into the Orange Tier on the state’s four-tiered reopening guidelines. 

Since the tiers were rolled out over six months ago, OC has only made it to the Red Tier, which is more restrictive than the Orange Tier.

Chau said if trends hold over the next week, then the numbers “will make us eligible to go into the Orange Tier.” 

A move to the Orange Tier means already open businesses can let more people inside and bars can reopen for outdoor services only.

Although many bars throughout OC have been operating indoor and outdoor services for months and it’s unclear if anyone is enforcing the state guidelines.

Apparently, counties had the option of either signing an agreement with the state for vaccine distribution or Blue Shield — something that wasn’t publicized by state officials since announcing Blue Shield’s supply chain takeover last month. 

“We had a conversation with Blue Shield …  looking at what makes sense because all the private providers, including a hospital, will have to sign a contract,” Chau told supervisors. “It doesn’t make sense if we go separately.” 

But hospitals, pharmacies, health clinics and other vaccine providers are required to sign a contract with Blue Shield to stay in the distribution system. 

Chau also said the county would be able to reallocate vaccines if a provider isn’t using them in time or correctly. 

Meanwhile, Orange County’s vaccine registration software, Othena, is likely sticking around. 

The contract calls for all providers to use the state’s registration service, MyTurn.

 But Chau said they’ve figured out how to make the two programs communicate with each other. 

“We have already developed an interface with MyTurn and, in fact, we have tested out,” Chau said. 

When OC residents log into MyTurn, it directs them to Othena, Chau said, adding “information would float back to MyTurn.” 

While county officials said they figured out how to combine the two registration services, local health clinics worry the change to MyTurn could delay their progress on closing the vaccine gap.

Alexander Rossel, CEO of the local health clinic Families Together of Orange County, said he’s concerned that switching to MyTurn will double-up work for his staff to input data into two separate systems.

That could slow down vaccinations by at least 30%, Rossel estimated. 

And he still hasn’t seen a Blue Shield contract as of Monday.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me — we’re really fighting this battle. We changed our clinic, do whatever we can to get this vaccination going and at the end they don’t take us into account. So it seems very unfair and frustrating to me,” Rossel said in a Monday phone interview. 

Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Clinics, has been echoing similar concerns since state officials announced Blue Shield’s takeover last month. 

The local health clinics have been key in addressing the vaccine disparities. 

Although closing the gap has been slow, progress has been made. 

Read: Community Efforts to Bring COVID Vaccines to OC’s Hardest Hit Neighborhoods Are Paying Off

Latinos have received nearly 14% of vaccines, make up roughly 35% of OC’s residents, have 46% of cases and 38% of deaths, according to vaccine and case data from the county Health Care Agency. 

Last month, the Latino community was at about 9% of shots received. 

In comparison, white people received 44% of the vaccines, make up over 38% of the county’s residents, have roughly 25% of cases and 37% of deaths.

Rossel said the Families Together clinic is helping vaccinate as many people as possible, including frontline food workers as indoor dining at restaurants reopened earlier this month.  

“We’re vaccinating these new faces and people are being responsive. They’re coming from restaurants, too. We have a mobile unit with a partnership with the Tustin Chamber of Commerce,” Rossel said. “They are lining up the restaurants — so we already vaccinated about 80 to 90 restaurants.” 

As of Tuesday, 188 people were hospitalized, including 40 in intensive care units. 

While case rates and hospitalizations have dropped, the pandemic has created the deadliest year for Orange County.

Read: Coronavirus Triggered Orange County’s Deadliest Year in Recent Times

The virus has now killed 4,635 people, including 27 new deaths reported Tuesday. 

That’s more than eight times the flu kills on a yearly average. 

Virus deaths have now surpassed 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

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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