Some of Orange County’s local health clinic and community organization leaders say vaccinations to the Latino community could increase now that everyone 16 and older can get the shot.

“We know that the Latino population tends to be younger. So now that the April 15 date has sort of opened up to everyone, we expect the numbers to start going up,” said Nancy Mejia, chief program officer at Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based community organization. 

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The Latino community, while making up 35% of Orange County’s population, account for just over 15% of the senior population, according to county data.  

Because of that, Mejia said, a large share of shots weren’t going to the community because vaccine guidelines called for 65 and older until the beginning of this month when it opened up to everyone 50 and over. 

Vaccine eligibility also expanded to everyone 16 and older yesterday. 

But, Mejia said, there’s also roadblocks many Latinos face getting the vaccine.

“As the tiers have opened up,  we’re seeing more people get vaccinated. But there’s barriers from work … we also have a large workforce that’s undocumented or makes low wages and they don’t have alot of those benefits, like paid time off. We’re also seeing lack of child care,” Mejia said in a Thursday phone interview. 

She also said it often boils down to many people not having the ability to take the available appointments.

“Oftentimes, the appointment you see is the appointment you have to take and that’s not possible for some working class people,” Mejia said. “It’s a luxury to take a couple hours off work, or an entire day, to get the vaccine.” 

The Latino community has had nearly 47% of Orange County’s coronavirus cases, 38% of deaths and has received nearly 15% of the 2 million vaccines distributed, according to county Health Care Agency data.

In comparison, white people make up 38% of the countys’ residents, have about 25% of cases, over 37% of deaths and have received about 32% of the vaccines. 

“We’re still lagging behind,” said Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics. “We anticipate that in about two weeks … we’re going to start seeing an increase in those numbers based on the opening of tiers.” 

Mejia expressed concerns that some communities could get left behind because of the technological hurdles and work barriers. 

But, she said, local health clinics, community organizations and partnerships with cities and the county can counter that.

“It’s going to be important, as we move forward, that all of us doing this work are really looking at how we can ensure that these communities don’t fall to the back of the line. So that includes increasing the number of vaccines for those folks and making it easy,” Mejia said. 

Local health clinics have been critical in closing the vaccine gap because they’re able to set up clinics in neighborhoods or at their offices, which are located in the hardest hit communities.  

The clinics stagger appointment times so people don’t have to wait very long to get the shot. 

Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer at the Costa Mesa-based Share Our Selves health clinic, said they were able to cut down times after a learning curve from their first vaccination clinic early last month. 

“Our cycle time from start to finish — registration to the end of observation period — was about an hour. By the time we got to the second event and we had the experience and muscle to do it, we got it down to 30 minutes. Now mind you 15 minutes of that is mandatory for observation time,” Lee said in a Wednesday phone interview. 

Like Becerra and Mejia, Lee said the vaccination supersites are good, but aren’t accessible to everyone. 

“The supersites do hit a bulk of folks, but it does miss people who don’t have access to technology, or who don’t speak English,” Lee said. 

Meanwhile, coronavirus hospitalizations slightly increased today. 

As of Friday, 135 people were hospitalized, including 29 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 4,886 people — nine times the number of OC residents killed by the flu on a yearly average.  

COVID deaths 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.

Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest 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.

Lee said he’s carefully watching the case increases and hospitalizations each day. 

“I think the numbers are very encouraging, but I am still very cautious. Because it feels like that time right before Thanksgiving in 2020 when the numbers came down and plateaued,” Lee said.  “It suggests to me that there’s some unseen level of viral activity going on.” 

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

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