A new clinic opened in Santa Ana today and another will open in Irvine on Monday to boost Orange County’s vaccination rates. 

It comes as the county’s Latino vaccination disparities have been bridging at a snail’s pace.

Latinos account for nearly 47% of the county’s Covid-19 cases and 38% of deaths while only receiving about 15% of the 2 million vaccines distributed so far, according to the latest county Health Care Agency data.

The new vaccination sites are opening up with the help of Providence, a nonprofit Catholic health care system that’s partnered with medical tech company Edwards Lifesciences and local officials to operate and fund the clinics.  

Providence is also in the midst of a separation effort by one of its member hospitals in Orange County, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.  

“We expect to be able to vaccinate 4,000 people a day” between the sites, said Eric Wexler, Providence’s president of operations, in an interview with Voice of OC. “We can expand that if we get access to additional vaccines.” 

Wexler added: “This public private partnership is essential to getting to the residents of orange county, in particular those who are in at-risk communities.”

The Santa Ana clinic will operate in one of Edwards Lifesciences’ campus buildings at 3009 Daimler St. and the other will operate out of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.

In Santa Ana, officials have watched their city chalk up some of the highest Coronavirus positivity rates in the county.

Edwards Lifesciences has also volunteered to provide staffing and help mobilize and operate the clinics, on top of a “generous donation of $500,000 to help offset the cost of clinicians that administer the vaccine,” Wexler said.  

“We expect the total investment by providence and edwards to be over $2 million over the next three to six months of vax administration,” Wexler added. “It’s an extraordinary commitment.”

Local health leaders have said the vaccination gap stems from a variety of factors, like language barriers, getting time off work and knowing how to navigate the digital vaccine registration platforms the supersites use — all of which, they said, can be seen as hesitancy. 

Vaccine hesitancy came up in a presentation by Santa Ana officials at their City Council meeting Tuesday, where City Manager Kristine Ridge said “the more people who receive the Coronavirus vaccines, the sooner vulnerable peoples can feel safe among others.”

Her message to the city was one local health experts have been sounding out for the past year: 

“Communities of color experience a disproportionate number of severe COVID cases and deaths. People of color are vulnerable to COVID-19 risk factors, and are more likely to be working frontline essential jobs that cannot be performed from home, increasing their chances of being infected. Getting vaccinated can provide greater protection.”

Asked about vaccine hesitancy Wednesday, the county’s Public Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau referred a reporter to the Health Care Agency’s spokesperson, who said the agency would follow up with information over just how much of an issue, exactly, vaccine hesitancy poses to Orange County’s progress in combatting the pandemic. 

“We are very concerned with health disparities,” Wexler said, voicing concern over the positivity rates in the county’s predominantly Latino communities compared to other parts of the county  “where people may be more spread out in living quarters or have the types of jobs that don’t require them to be on site.”

“That requires that we do everything possible … to reduce health disparity,” Wexler said. 

Bernadette Boden-Albala, an epidemiologist and founding dean for the University of California, Irvine public health program, told Voice of OC on April 20 that while the county is “starting to move the needle” it’s “actually at a slower pace than the rest of the county.” 

“We have to make sure that we’re doing it at the same pace. And that’s something that people have a hard time understanding,” Boden-Albala said. 

Meanwhile, Orange County’s hospitalizations decreased slightly since Tuesday. 

As of Wednesday, 11o people were hospitalized, including 23 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency. 

The virus has now killed 4,902 people — nine times as many residents 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.

Staff writer Spencer Custodio contributed reporting.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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