While community health clinics have been vaccinating working class residents in Orange County’s hardest hit, often Latino neighborhoods, another vaccination gap has emerged among white communities older than 65.
According to the latest vaccine distribution data, less than half of white people older than 65 have been vaccinated throughout much of the coastal parts of Orange County and swaths of Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, San Clemente, Tustin and Westminster.
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Yet the opposite shows for Asian, Black and Latino communities throughout most of those areas — half or more residents 65 and older have been vaccinated in those groups.
Although there’s still pockets of Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana where less than half of Black residents older than 65 have been vaccinated.
County Health Officer and OC Health Care Agency Director, Dr. Clayton Chau, said the agency is going to work with scores of organizations to address vaccine hesitancy throughout the county.
“We will continue to push out materials to address vaccine hesitancy as well as working with community based organizations, cities and senior centers to make sure we address hesitancy as well as barriers to access,” Chau said in a Monday text message.
About three-quarters of the nearly 5,000 coronavirus deaths in Orange County are residents older than 65, according to county data.
The agency has been partnering with a host of churches and community groups to boost vaccine awareness and get people registered for the shot.
When all races and ethnicities are factored in, a majority of Orange County’s seniors 65 and older have been vaccinated, according to the data.
“As of 4/18 the total 65+ vaccinated was 80% and most likely higher by now,” Chau said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said state public health officials are running into hesitancy.
“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 at a news conference earlier this month.
Dr. Regina Chinso-Kwong, the county Health Care Agency’s deputy health officer, said there’s no concrete data on the level of vaccine hesitancy in OC.
She said the acceptance rate was about 60% last fall, based on a survey.
But that was before the Winter wave, which saw over 2,200 people hospitalized and killed more than 1,000 people in January.
“We don’t know how much of that is going to play out in real life, especially after all that we’ve been through since Fall [when the survey was conducted], before we had that big surge in November, December and January,” Chinso-Kwong said in a phone interview last week.
But, judging by the overall turnout for vaccines among people 65 and older, Chinso-Kwong said the results paint a better picture than what the fall survey indicated.
“It’s true there’s less hesitancy than survey results showed,” she said.
The Health Care Agency has been hosting neighborhood vaccination clinics throughout the county along with community health organizations.
On Saturday, 800 shots were distributed at Magnolia High School in Anaheim — one of the largest community vaccination clinics so far.
“Community health centers have been on the forefront,” said Alexander Rossel, CEO of Families Together of Orange County, the community clinic who administered the shots Saturday.
“At this point, Families Together — just a small health center — has been able to deliver 30,000 vaccines,” Rossel said at a Saturday news conference.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said county officials are still targeting vaccines to the hardest hit communities, like the neighborhoods around Magnolia High School.
“It’s been our priority to make sure we actively distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to these vulnerable residents,” Chaffee said during the news conference, noting the neighborhood nearby was hit hard during the Summer and Winter waves.
“As you know one of the zip codes, 92805, has been decimated,” he said.
Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics, said health clinics will continue vaccinating people in the hardest hit areas throughout OC, where a bulk of the essential workforce lives.
“We will continue to be here on weekends — day in and day out, seven days a week to ensure that communities that will not make it to the super pods, the communities that will not make it to the CVS’s or the large health care systems of our county have a place to come to get their shot,” Becerra said during the news conference.
She said the essential workers deserve the efforts because they kept the economy going during the shutdowns.
“We want to make sure that no one is left behind. Because they did not leave us behind. As the essential workforce, they were at work day in and day out — while the majority of us around the table here were working from home,” Becerra said.
Meanwhile, Orange County’s virus hospitalizations have been stable.
As of Monday, 115 people were hospitalized, including 23 in intensive care units.
The virus has now killed 4,933 people — nine times more than the flu kills 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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio