Pockets of Orange County remain under-vaccinated against the coronavirus as county and state officials increasingly move from vaccine super sites to neighborhood shot clinics before an expected statewide reopening June 15. 

County officials have said they’ve seen a drop in demand at the supersites, prompting them to close the sites beginning early next month. 

Just over half of residents are vaccinated in areas throughout Anaheim, Garden Grove, Stanton, Santa Ana and other hard hit areas throughout OC, according to state data.

Roughly more than a third of residents younger than 65 years old have received a vaccine in some of those neighborhoods, according to county data

To date, 56% of all county residents have had at least one shot. 

The drop in vaccine demand isn’t just happening locally.

State officials have also seen demand drop. 

Statewide, roughly 53% of residents have had at least one shot. 

Public health experts say at least 70% of residents need to be vaccinated in order to hit herd immunity. 

County and state officials are turning to a mobile vaccination clinic model to bring the shots closer to people’s homes and are teaming up with schools and community organizations to boost awareness. 

“There’s a lot of strategies that call on using schools as trusted partners in delivering vital health and other community services,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency at a news conference earlier this month. “We’re looking at how we partner with schools in a high integrity way.”

He also said pediatricians and private care doctors can help build trust around the vaccine. 

“Family doctors, pediatricians who take care of younger Californians are in many ways trusted voices,” Ghaly said. 

Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer for Share Ourselves, a Costa Mesa-based health clinic, also said medical workers at the smaller vaccination sites are able to get the community’s trust better than supersites. 

“The switch to these neighborhood pods is pivotal to get to the harder to reach communities,” Lee said in a phone interview earlier this month. “Most of the populations we are reaching out to have been disproportionately affected by COVID.”

Lee said the consultation he and other medical staff  are able to give residents at the smaller clinics “enhances someone’s trust of the vaccine.” 

There’s also walk-in vaccinations available through major pharmacies.

Local health clinics and community organizations have been key in lowering testing rates and boosting vaccination rates to the county’s most impacted communities throughout Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana. 

Read: Community Efforts to Bring COVID Vaccines to OC’s Hardest Hit Neighborhoods Are Paying Off

Now, county officials are aiming to boost vaccination rates with a contract for up to $20 million to increase vaccinations using the neighborhood shot clinic and mobile vaccination models. 

But it’s unclear who will be contracted. 

“The OC Health Care Agency (HCA) will be asking the Orange County Board of Supervisors at this Tuesday’s meeting to allow us to extend a Request for Information to interested parties. There are no vendors under consideration at this time,” said Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, deputy director of the county Health Care Agency. 

County officials haven’t answered questions on if they’ve reached out to the community clinics about the contract. 

The clinics are naturally located in the hardest hit areas due to federal regulations.

Some clinics have been hurting for more funding, like Families Together of Orange County. 

Families Together is also among the top 10 vaccine providers in the county, administering more than 34,000 doses, according to county Health Care Agency data.

David Becerra, director of programs for Families Together, said their mobile vaccination efforts have been paying off. 

“The populations we are trying to reach are the harder to reach communities,” Becerra said in a phone interview last Thursday. “Through our mobile unit, we have gone out to schools and neighborhoods and have seen an increase in vaccines.”

Last week, state officials announced a vaccine program employers can sign up for to get their workers vaccinated through a state website and partnerships with local health clinics.

Meanwhile, local and state public health officials have been trying to address vaccine hesitancy and battle misinformation about the vaccines. 

County supervisors and local public health officials have constantly had to tell residents they’re not going to force vaccinations on anyone or mandate a passport system, following waves of concerns about the issues during public comment at OC supervisors meetings. 

Read: OC Supervisors Cancel Digital Coronavirus Vaccine Records, Hundreds of People Rail Against Vaccine Passports

The county’s virus hospitalizations have been relatively stable this month.

As of Monday, 76 people were hospitalized, including 11 in intensive care units, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 5,052 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 scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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