Orange County’s local health clinics, community organizations and the Health Care Agency are grappling with a lack of funding in the proposed state budget, as the organizations bolster coronavirus vaccination rates throughout the county.
“So we decided a few weeks ago of doing it our way — being in the neighborhoods. Making it as easy as possible. And it’s working,” said Nancy Mejia, chief program officer at Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based community group that has become a critical partner for County of Orange efforts to combat Coronavirus with testing and vaccines.
As the group mobilizes to help continue to boost vaccination rates in central OC, Mejia said the organization has been scaling down the size of its neighborhood and mobile clinics in an effort to be in more places at once by splitting up resources and staff.
“They’re even smaller than what we’ve done before,” Mejia said in a Wednesday phone interview. “We’re doing about 100 to 200 doses per event, but in a span of two to three hours.”
Yet it’s unclear if there’s any new funding coming down from the state as local health clinics and community organizations whose efforts have been and continue to be key in bringing down positivity rates and boosting vaccination rates in the hardest hit areas.
“We’re going to need to invest a lot of resources into the communities that have been hardest hit. This pandemic has revealed a bunch of inequities that have been there for a while,” Mejia said. “We’re looking at how we can maintain a presence in those neighborhoods in the long term.”
Clinics might have to administer booster shots down the road.
David Becerra, director of programs for the local health clinic, Families Together of Orange County, said he’s worried about not being able to keep enough staff on for another round of shots.
“There is a certain side to the narrative that isn’t being considered with boosters being needed in the future. We need to keep resources in place. So in order to do that, we need funding,” Becerra said in a Thursday phone interview. “We’re still operating in a deficit, in terms of Families Together paying for the vaccine services.”
The clinic has vaccinated more people than any other local health clinic, according to data from the OC Health Care Agency.
Becerra, who’s heading up Families Together’s coronavirus vaccination efforts, said the over 20,000 people they vaccinated will be asking for a booster shot at some point.
And it likely won’t be staggered by age groups, like the first rounds of shots were, he said.
“This is going to be 20,000 people immediately looking at us on how can you get me my booster shot,” Becerra said.
Historically underfunded public health departments, like the OC Health Care Agency, are also left out of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget.
California Can’t Wait, an advocacy group of local health officers and medical leaders, pushed back against Newsom’s spending plan during a Wednesday news conference.
“This is astounding. We can’t repeat the same mistakes California made before COVID-19 … underfunding public health prevented local public health agencies from doing more to reduce the very kinds of health disparities that left people of color more likely to get sick from COVID-19 and die,” said Monterey County Health Officer Elsa Jimenez during Wednesday’s news conference.
The group is calling for an additional $200 million in funding for public health departments as a starting point.
At a news conference last Friday, Newsom largely avoided questions about not giving local clinics and health departments more money, but said he’ll speak with legislators about the issue.
Latino Health Access and Families Together are just some of the many organizations working to boost vaccination rates to Orange County’s most impacted neighborhoods.
The county-run vaccination super sites are slated to close by June 6 and county officials plan on mirroring efforts from the community clinics and groups to bring shots into neighborhoods.
Mejia said they recently helped host a vaccination clinic in front of the Bristol Swap Mall in Santa Ana.
Not only were customers and employees getting shots, but “people getting off the bus saw what was going on, so they just decided to walk up and get the vaccine,” Meijia said.
The group is also trying to partner with employers to bring shots into the workplace for people.
Latino Health Access is currently working out logistics with employers because some don’t want everyone vaccinated the same day in case a majority of employees experience side effects — usually minor flu-like symptoms — and be down for a day or two, Meji said.
“We’re grateful we’re having those conversations,” she said, adding those talks signal an interest by employers.
Newsom’s administration announced Thursday that state public health officials will be mirroring flu shots at work places in an effort to get coronavirus vaccines to more people.
“We’re all familiar with employee flu-shot programs that have been an effective way to support workforce health,” said state Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón in a Thursday news release. “Now, we’re repeating those same best practices to make it easier for people to access COVID-19 vaccines, including by promoting programs like supplemental paid sick leave so workers can time off if they need it.”
Employers can request a mobile clinic to stop by their workplace. State health officials are expected to connect employers with local health clinics in order to get their workers vaccinated.
Becerra said Families Together of OC stands ready to partner with anyone who wants to boost vaccination rates.
Meanwhile, OC’s virus hospitalizations increased slightly today.
As of Thursday, 75 people were hospitalized, including 22 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
The virus has now killed 5,038 people — more than nine times 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio