Note: This story was updated at 3:25 p.m. to include additional statements from county officials and the announcement that Orange County was declared eligible to move into the state’s least restrictive tier of limits on public activity.

Kids 12 years old and up can now get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, meaning Orange County could have a closer shot at herd immunity by June 15, the day most pandemic restrictions are set to end.

Officials have already declared Orange County eligible to move to the least restrictive tier of Coronavirus public activity restrictions, starting Wednesday. Bars can reopen indoors, while more businesses and amusement parks can expand their capacity of visitors and customers.

“I would say where we should be focusing our efforts is really working to get community immunity by focusing on children here,” said Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer of the community health clinic, Share Our Selves, in an interview with Voice of OC.

Children, Lee said, after all represent roughly 1 in 5  people in the county: “If you think about it from a mathematical perspective, if roughly half people in the county got their first dose and we get an additional 20% vaccinated, that gets us to 70%.” 

Though it may be trickier than that, said Orange County’s deputy health officer, Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong. 

“There’s an assumption herd immunity is about 70%, but with the increase and the different variants in the counties we’re fighting against time to minimize transmission and the amount of variants,” Chinsio-Kwong said in a response to Voice of OC questions. 

Though she said herd immunity by June 15 “is attainable if the demand is there.” 

“We would need to vaccinate about 16,000 new doses each day until June 15. From late March we have been able to do 40,000 doses a day so we can do it. We just need the demand so we can vaccinate.”

On June 15, most pandemic restrictions are set to end. 

Unvaccinated people will still be required to wear masks indoors and concert halls and sports stadiums will have to limit the amount of fans inside, unless the venue can prove everyone is either vaccinated or tested negative for the virus.

Last Thursday, the CDC announced fully vaccinated people could largely ditch their masks.

State health officials are holding off on implementing the CDC’s guidelines until June 15. 

Read: Fully Vaccinated Orange County Residents Still Required to Wear Masks Indoors for Another Month

As of May 9 — the latest available county data — nearly 1.3 million people in the county were fully vaccinated or received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Roughly 445,000 people still had one shot to go.

UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Andrew Noymer, said not all parents are going to get their kids vaccinated.

“There’s going to be a lot of division among parents because there’s a lot of divisions among adults,” Noymer said in a Monday phone interview. “There will be a significant portion of 12 to 15 year olds to get vaccinated, I’m not saying it will be a majority, but my guess will be that within 8 weeks from now, probably 30% of Orange County 12 to 15 year olds are vaccinated.” 

Noymer also said vaccinating children will help prevent household outbreaks, especially when many schools reopen in the fall. 

“I favor vaccinating adolescents, and it will only help the situation,” he said.  “We’re in for what I think is going to be a lenient Summer.” 

But, he warned, “We could well be in for a more severe situation for the Winter or Fall/Winter.” 

Sanghyuk Shin, a public health expert and epidemiologist at UCI, said the CDC should’ve staggered the approach to ditching masks so some people don’t get the wrong message and avoid getting their families vaccinated. 

“I think it was very confusing and maybe not the optimal way for them to roll out the new guidance. So for me, something like what the state is doing, which is a phased approach, makes a ton more sense,” Shin said in a Monday phone interview. 

The county’s public health officials have struggled to combat vaccine hesitancy among some residents amid misinformation and conspiracy theories — namely around the idea of vaccine documentation or passports — about the shot. 

Orange County Board of Supervisors meetings had increasingly become a hotbed of coronavirus conspiracy theories during public comment over the last several months

Meanwhile, Orange County’s hospitalizations have been declining. 

As of Tuesday, 78 people were hospitalized, including 14 in intensive care units. No deaths were reported.

The virus has killed 5,031 OC residents since the start of the pandemic — more than nine times 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.

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