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Orange County’s public health officials, hospitals and community clinics are gearing up to vaccinate more residents as state and local officials are pushing to host more coronavirus vaccination clinics in neighborhoods most impacted by the virus. 

“There are 337 community-based organizations the state has partnered with,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference last Thursday. “We have more mobile sites and fixed sites… we continue to build out that network.” 

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Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics, said the local clinics have been extremely effective in getting shots to the most impacted areas of the county. 

“They have consistently been in the top 10 vaccinators in the county,” Becerra said. “I truly believe the work we did collectively among the clinics contributed significantly, if not directly, to the opening of tiers in Orange County.” 

The clinics are able to stagger appointments and bring the shots into the neighborhoods where many essential workers live, like food workers and farm workers. 

“With these pods, people spend less time getting there, less time waiting in line. We usually get them in and out,” said Nancy Mejia, chief program officer at Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based community organization.

“About 60% of the folks we were reaching had household incomes of less than $30,000,” she said.

Some residents have been going to Los Angeles County to get their coronavirus shots following a rocky rollout of county-run vaccination supersites, like at Disneyland.

More than 66,000 shots were administered to OC residents at five different sites through LA County, according to data from the Orange County Health Care Agency

That’s a little over 3% of the 2 million doses administered so far. 

Hospitals throughout OC have distributed at least 306,000 vaccines, or about 15% of all the doses.

Pharmacies distributed nearly 350,000 shots, or about 17%.

And the OC Health Care Agency has distributed more than 700,000 shots at various clinics and super sites, accounting for roughly 35% of all shots distributed. 

The agency has also been partnering with cities throughout the county to hold neighborhood clinics.

In a Monday text message, county Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said the agency is averaging seven to 10 neighborhood vaccination clinics each week and there’s nine scheduled for this week throughout OC. 

Community health clinics have been focusing on the hardest hit, often hardest to reach working class neighborhoods throughout Orange County. 

Last Thursday, state officials opened up vaccines for all Californians 16 and older. 

The expanded eligibility also came as federal officials stopped shipments of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for six cases of severe blood clotting out of roughly 7.5 million shots administered.

Newsom said state officials expect vaccine supplies from Pfizer and Moderna to ramp up at the end of the month. 

Overall, 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 certain neighborhoods throughout North and Central Orange County, only about 10% of Latinos younger than 65 have received a coronavirus shot, according to data from the county Health Care Agency.

Mejia said the vaccination distribution gap hinges on an array of factors like language barriers, lack of time off work and because not as many Latinos are medical workers compared to other groups. 

Medical workers were some of the first people to get vaccinated when the efforts began late last year. 

Mejia and Becerra said they expect the Latino community’s vaccination rates to increase now that everyone 16 and older qualifies for the shot.

Read: OC’s Latino Coronavirus Vaccination Rate Could Increase If Health Clinics Stay On Course

Newsom said there’s also some vaccine hesitancy in the Latino community.

But, he noted, there’s a hesitancy throughout all communities. 

“We still have hesitancy in all communities, including the caucasian community. And — sadly and curiously and in many respects not surprisingly — based on your political affiliation,” Newsom said.

But local health leaders say differently. 

“There’s been this sort of talk around hesistency and we like to say let’s talk about what hesitancy really means. We can’t really say the Latino community is hesitant to get the vaccine — that’s not at all what we’re seeing,” Mejia said.

She added that Latino Health Access has successfully registered scores of people for the vaccine from efforts from its over 140 community health workers — promotores — who have been speaking to residents throughout OC about the shot.

Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer from the Costa Mesa-baed Share Our Selves health clinic, also said he’s not seeing hesitancy problems, but access issues. 

“I don’t think the low numbers reflected in communities are from vaccine hesitancy. I think they’re a reflection of lack of access,” Lee said in a phone interview last week. “We’re still seeing a tremendous amount of demand for vaccines.” 

Orange County’s hospitalizations have somewhat plateaued since a slight increase last week. 

As of Monday, 128 people were hospitalized, including 22 in intensive care units, according to the OC Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 4,896 people — nine times the number of 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.

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

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