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Neighborhood health clinics, with help from community organizations, will soon vaccinate even more people throughout Orange County as officials are slated to shut down their vaccine super sites by early next month.

 Some community clinic leaders are welcoming the move. 

“The move to focus on local players such as community clinics is essential when it comes to vaccines. Community clinics, such as ours, and other local health care providers have direct access to the community,” said Alexander Rossel, CEO of Families Together of Orange County, in a Thursday statement.

He said the switch to neighborhood clinics will help battle vaccine hesitancy. 

“Most importantly, we hold the relationship with them, which means that there is a level of trust there. So, to battle any sort of vaccine hesitancy that may arise, the ones that hold those relationships with patients are the key to getting past this next stage in the fight against COVID-19,” Rossel said. 

The clinics and community organizations have been critical in getting shots to the county’s most impacted, hardest to reach communities.

Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Orange County Coalition of Community Health Centers, said local clinics have already been scaling up their vaccination efforts.

“We definitely — at the coalition — are in the vaccination space in a way we never thought we would be in. We are scheduling visits and events quickly. When we end one, we’re already working on the next one,” Becerra said in a Tuesday phone interview, before county officials announced a change in vaccine strategy. 

She said they’re partnering with a host of organizations and businesses to help spread awareness about the shot and bring vaccinations closer to people 

“Organizations like the Salvation Army, churches, and ethnic food markets, like Northgate, are some of the ones to coordinate consistent events, so it’s not just a one-off … we’re ramping that up with support of our members so we are more proactive instead of reactive,” Becerra said. 

She said consistency is key so people will know where to come back for their second shots. 

It also builds confidence and combats hesitancy in the community, she said. 

At a Thursday media briefing, county health officials said they’ve seen a drop in vaccine demand across the board. 

“When I speak to our providers here in Orange County, who have been delivering it from the health care systems and the clinics and as well as pharmacies — this drop in demand has been experienced across all of Orange County. Not just the super pod efforts,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, deputy county health officer.

Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, deputy director of the county Health Care Agency, said the switch to more neighborhood clinics can more effectively help the county hit herd immunity. 

“For us, this is our last mile to get to that 70% herd and general immunity and this will probably be the most effective way moving forward,” Bredehoft said during Thursday’s media briefing.

County officials also said they’ll be rerouting some resources from the vaccine supersites to help prop up the neighborhood shot clinics. 

Becerra noted some health clinics, like Families Together of Orange County, are already being stretched thin and need more funding to continue the vaccination efforts.

“I hope that that also translates into funding because the county will no longer have to support the super pods and we will urge them to distribute those resources to the organizations that have been doing it,” Becerra said in a brief Friday phone interview.

Ellen Ahn, executive director of the Korean Community Services health clinic, said not much will change for their clinic once the super sites close down. 

“It’s business as usual. We’re just continuing what we’ve always done which is reaching out to the neediest,” Ahn said in a Friday phone interview. “What we’re doing works and we’ve really moved mountains in the past few months.” 

Ahn said she hopes the shift in vaccination strategy will help overcome hesitancy throughout the community. 

But, she noted, it may take a different type of community organization to address hesitancy. 

“The real challenge that lies ahead, I think, in this county is for a non-ethnic community based organization — how do you reach the anti-vaccine movement? We’re all in this together and we need as many people vaccinated as possible,” Ahn said. 

Most of the community organizations county officials have partnered with during the pandemic are aimed at addressing different ethnic communities.

Orange County Supervisors meetings have become a hotbed of pandemic and vaccine conspiracy theories.

Most recently, the OC Board of Education considered a resolution opposing mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports — despite local and state officials repeatedly declaring such mandates won’t be forced on residents. 

A school board statement says county Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau may have suggested mandatory vaccines, despite Chau repeatedly denying it and saying there are no plans for mandatory vaccinations.

The board backed down from using that language, eliminating a series of sentences from the statement and instead voted on a more generalized resolution opposing vaccine passports.

And last month, dozens of people railed against the vaccinations and slowed an Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to a halt, prompting Supervisor Don Wagner to try and clear the air about false vaccine information with Chau — a conversation that later became viral

Ahn said Korean Community Services hasn’t run into vaccine hesitancy issues in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

“It is not something that the API community is experiencing in general. We just don’t see the levels of resistance in our community,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Orange County’s virus hospitalizations remain relatively stable.

As of Friday, 93 people were hospitalized, including 20 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 5,000 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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