Some local health experts worry Orange County’s persisting coronavirus vaccination gaps could lead to another disproportionate number of infections in the Latino community, which has already seen high levels of deaths and cases.
“We should be clear the majority of Latinos are happy to take the vaccine, but they don’t get access to it,” said Dr. Shruti Gohil, an infectious disease doctor who treats virus patients at UC Irvine Medical Center.
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The Latino community is lagging behind in vaccinations, locally and statewide, compared to other communities.
Gohil said more resources should be directed to public outreach and community health clinics, which are often located in the most impacted Latino neighborhoods throughout OC.
“It’s a mixture of not having enough access to care and not having enough outreach to the communities,” Gohil said in a Thursday phone interview.
UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert Sanghyuk Shin agrees.
Shin said he’s particularly concerned about officials rushing to reopen more businesses — with nearly all restrictions expected to be lifted June 15 — while many are left out of the vaccine distribution.
“There’s huge disparities in terms of who’s at risk when things are opened up,” Shin said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Shin said many of those currently dying from the virus were infected as vaccines were rolling out.
“Despite the case counts coming down, we’re still seeing people dying of COVID-19,” Shin said. “So these are people who may have been infected a month or two ago and vaccines were available and they were either not eligible or not able to have access to it.”
The virus has killed more than 4,800 Orange County residents — nearly nine times more than the flu does on a yearly average.
Over 1,800 of those deaths were in the Latino community — roughly 38% of all deaths.
Gohil said many people struggle to get to the vaccination supersites, like Disneyland, because they’re typically working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is when most of the sites operate.
“Some people — they can’t afford to take off work to come to 8 to 5 hours. They need extended hours into evening times. We will be working on that,” said county Supervisor Katrina Foley at a news conference last week.
County health officials are trying to address that issue by periodically adjusting the hours at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
For example, the fairgrounds vaccination site was open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Officials are also bolstering vaccination efforts in four of OC’s hardest hit zip codes in Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.
“We will vaccinate anyone who lives in those four zip codes who are 16 and above,” OC Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said at last week’s news conference. “We want to open that up in those specific zip codes first before it is generalized on April 15.”
During the Winter wave, roughly one in four people were testing positive in those neighborhoods, according to state data at that time.
The OC Health Care Agency has also partnered with cities to host mobile vaccination clinics for their residents.
Local health clinics and neighborhood vaccination centers have been key to increasing vaccinations to Orange County’s hard hit communities, where many essential workers often live.
Gohil said the clinics and community organizations should get more resources so they can scale up their vaccination efforts.
“That’s exactly what we should be doing is investing in clinics who are already there in the communities ready to do the outreach, ready to do the vaccinations — they just don’t have the correct resources to operationalize something like that.,” Gohil said. “Investing in those would be the smartest thing we could do.”
She said the investments should stay after the pandemic subsides to address the multitude of health disparities that were already impacting the communities.
“That goes for every health parameter you could think of — it’s going to be a gift that keeps on giving,” Gohil said. “They just have the best people.”
Orange County’s hospitalizations have remained stable this week.
As of Friday, 114 people were hospitalized, including 32 in intensive care units.
The virus has now killed 4,826 people, including 16 new deaths reported today.
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