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Orange County Supervisors on Tuesday voted to stop looking into providing people with digital proof of coronavirus vaccinations following weeks of some residents railing against the idea, saying the move is a mandatory vaccine passport. 

After being informed there were hundreds of public speakers on the issue, Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do proposed a vote to halt digital vaccine records during Tuesday’s public meeting.

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“That is to pause for now and stop all work on developing a digital record or a QR code as a form of verification for vaccination — that’s it,” Do said. 

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He said he made the move “in order to take this issue off the table, so that way we don’t cause more confusion to residents who may want to get vaccinated.” 

Public comment ended at 2:45 p.m. and Supervisors resumed the meeting just before 3 p.m.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to halt looking into providing digital vaccine records.

“What I’m talking about here is any system that would provide vaccination records for third parties to use in order to verify. In other words, any kind of verification system other than a CDC vaccination card,” Do said right before the vote.

For weeks, county Supervisors meetings have been ground to a halt by residents concerned about claims the county is going to force people to get the shot and mandate vaccine passports before going to businesses and county buildings.

At Tuesday’s meeting, roughly 500 people submitted cards to speak on the issue. 

County officials have repeatedly said they’re not going to force shots on anyone, require proof of vaccination before entering a county building or make people carry proof of vaccinations.

But, OC officials have no say on private businesses who may want to make sure their customers are vaccinated. 

Protestors gathered outside the Hall of Administration before the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to protest coronavirus vaccines and the pandemic response. May 11, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Many residents wanted county supervisors to ban businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations at Tuesday’s meeting.

State public health officials have created a de-facto incentive for businesses — like sports stadiums and concert halls — to require proof of vaccinations or negative tests if they want to have more people in the businesses.

Supervisor Don Wagner said many people “are falling prey to the misinformation that is out there. By the way, the misinformation goes on for both sides.” 

Wagner was referring to inaccurate, viral articles about him questioning county Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau on some of the claims made by residents. 

Read: How Will Orange County Officials Overcome Coronavirus Vaccine Hesitancy? Incentives Could Be One Answer

A clip of those questions went viral on social media, but the clip lacked context and didn’t include portions of the public comment that prompted Wagner to ask the questions in an effort to debunk the conspiracy theories.

“Hopefully the folks that are here, well meaning I don’t doubt, but perhaps being afraid of what they read on social media, that isn’t true. Perhaps being afraid that the county is going to be watching over them somehow,” Wagner said. 

Supervisor Katrina Foley was the only one who supported the digital proof of vaccinations. 

“I’m not going to be able to agree with you on this one,” Foley said. “I believe a strong majority of the community that we serve supports having a convenient digital record so they can go about living their lives. It’s critical to our economic engine here in Orange County,” Foley said. 

She said the efforts to halt providing digital vaccine proof are “appeasing a small faction of our community — a very small faction of our community — who actually are not going to get vaccinated. They already told us they don’t want vaccines,” Foley said. 

Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee said the move to provide digital vaccination proof is distracting officials from trying to vaccinate enough people for herd immunity. 

“We still need to vaccinate about 740,000 more people here in our county and we don’t want to distract from our goals and objectives doing so,” Bartlett said. 

Chaffee said he hopes by ending discussions of digital documentation, supervisors can again conduct routine business at their meetings.

“We cannot have the passport issue interfere, going forward, with our normal business,” Chaffee said. 

OC resident Leigh Dundas has been organizing people online to show up to county supervisors meetings and the OC Board of Education meetings to reject mandatory vaccinations and shot passports.

Public comment during those meetings have become a hotbed of conspiracy theories.

Dundas said the community members are also helping fund a series of television commercials warning people against vaccine passports. 

“They were funded by everyone,” Dundas told supervisors. “This [vaccine passport] is a plan that has 1984, Nazi Germany [in it] … nobody is a fan.”

Protestors gather to protest what they say are vaccine passports and mandatory vaccines on May 11, 2021, before the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Many public commenters said the idea of mandatory vaccines and passports are fascist and related the idea to the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

Some wore stars — reminiscent of what the Third Reich made Jews wear in Germany and its territories. 

Similar comments drew the ire from Orange County’s Jewish community leaders last month. 

Read: OC Jewish Community Calls For An End On Comparing Coronavirus Vaccine to Holocaust

Tuesday’s comments were made shortly after the 76th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s 1945 surrender to Allied forces, ending the war in Europe.

Allied forces began finding Nazi-run death camps early April 1945 — 76 years ago — when they were closing in on the Third Reich on both the western and eastern fronts. 

In late April 1945, U.S. troops found the death camp, Dachau. 

“This is a Nazi-type thing you are doing,” one woman told county supervisors on Tuesday, adding she’s Jewish. 

Another woman said “this is worse than the Nazis.”

Rabbi Peter Levi, regional director of OC and Long Beach for the Anti-Defamation League, said the comparisons are offensive and couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The Holocaust was about taking away people’s freedoms and murdering them — it was a genocide. And our contemporary situation is our countywide health authorities trying to save lives, preserve health and open up our communities — there are no apt analogies or comparisons here,” Levi said in a Tuesday phone interview.

He said the comparisons “distracts from the rational conversations and positions that need to be put forth” about the vaccination efforts.

It’s part of an increasing local trend, Levi said. 

“We’ve seen this in the anti-vaxxer movement for a while. This isn’t new to the pandemic, this is something that predates that. It unfortunately has been seized upon, particularly locally here,” he said. “These attention-seekers don’t even think for one second about the murder of 6 million Jews and one and a half million children during the Holocaust.”

Meanwhile, OC’s virus hospitalizations continue to stay low. 

As of Tuesday, 84 people were hospitalized, including 18 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 5,017 people — more than nine times the flu does 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 scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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