Orange County officials won’t mandate coronavirus vaccine passports, but local public health officials are looking into providing digital vaccination records to residents after the CDC and FBI said many physical vaccination cards are forged.
At OC Supervisors’ Tuesday public meeting, OC Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said the county isn’t going to force people to be vaccinated before entering county buildings or going to businesses like a grocery store or theme park.
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But, Chau told supervisors, private businesses can require people to show proof of vaccinations or negative tests.
“Can the government do that? The answer now is no. Can the private side do that? The answer is yes,” he said. “We don’t make decisions on whether a business will use proof or not.”
The little white card given to people who’ve been vaccinated has been forged and sold over the internet, causing the FBI to issue various warnings against using them.
Because of that, Chau said, people need a more reliable way to show they’re vaccinated.
“The CDC and FBI said it has been sold over the internet … they made a statement that the CDC white card is not proof of vaccination,” Chau said. “As a health entity, we are required by law to give people proof that we provided a service to them… in this case the vaccination.”
State officials have said they aren’t mandating vaccination passports either.
“There are no current plans by the state to impose or have a vaccine passport system here in California. That said, we know that businesses are exploring — already — how they ensure that people are vaccinated can come and enjoy the benefits of being vaccinated,” said Secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, at a news conference last week.
Although, some businesses like sports stadiums or convention halls can increase their attendance capacities if they can show everyone has either tested negative or has been vaccinated.
Over 200 people registered to speak on the issue at Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting, many of whom railed against any type of mandated vaccine passport and the vaccine itself.
“They are concerned that, at some point, we are going to say without the digital equivalent of this card … you’re not going to be able to travel in Orange County, leave Orange County,” Supervisor Don Wagner said. “That’s not what we’re doing, not what we’re intending.”
Supervisor Katrina Foley cited a recent Chapman University poll that showed a majority of county residents want the vaccine.
“I am concerned that we are allowing a small minority of individuals who have been calling our offices yesterday … to dictate how we serve the community’s health,” Foley said.
It’s the second time county officials have had to counter misinformation in the past week.
A number of people who spoke during public comment at the supervisors meeting also spoke at last Wednesday’s OC Board of Education meeting, claiming Chau and the school districts were looking to force vaccinations on children and turn schools into vaccination sites.
Chau held an impromptu press briefing last Thursday morning to address the numerous claims made through text messages, social media and comments at the Board of Education meeting.
He also repeated some of the rebuttals at Tuesday’s Supervisors meeting.
“I don’t understand where the misunderstanding comes from. We never work to get kids vaccinated against their parents’ wish or kids under the age of 16,” Chau said, adding parents have to be on-site before a child 16 to 18 can get vaccinated.
Supervisor Andrew Do said the emergency use authorization for the vaccines states they aren’t mandatory.
“The optional aspect of it is right up front. It can never be mandatory or compulsory by nature of that authorization,” Do said.
Do attributed a lot of Tuesday’s controversy to the term passport.
“Admittedly, the term passport is inartful,” he said.
Chau said the term, along with a sample QR code, was on the Apple and Google app stores and OC Health Care Agency staff are trying to get it taken down to avoid more confusion.
“I know the controversial term passport was attached to that QR code,” Chau said.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said officials need to be “crystal clear” on the digital vaccination records the county Health Care Agency is looking to give people who ask for them.
“I think we really need to get clear on messaging on that,” Bartlett said. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls… there was a rumor that went around that we have some kind of mandate on a vaccine record.”
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said the digital vaccine records will be needed to increase attendance occupancy limits at places like Angel Stadium and the Honda Center.
“Individuals proving vaccinations will be very important to those industries,” he said.
Meanwhile, federal officials have stopped shipments of the Johnson and Johnson coronavirus vaccine before all Orange County residents 16 and over, along with the rest of the state, will qualify for the shot this Thursday.
The Johnson and Johnson pause stems from six cases of severe blood clotting and officials are looking to study the issue further.
While health officials look to vaccinate more people with less doses available, Orange County’s virus hospitalizations have somewhat plateaued after continuously dropping for months.
As of Tuesday, 115 people were hospitalized, including 31 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
The virus has now killed 4,849 people — nearly nine times the number killed by the flu on a yearly average.
COVID 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio