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Orange County’s vaccination efforts could switch from supersites to smaller, neighborhood clinics as state health officials said there’s a drop in vaccinations, while an expected statewide reopening draws closer.

At last Tuesday’s county supervisors meetings, OC Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said when county officials see “demand for the super pods beginning to drop, that’s when we really have to consider do we consolidate or close the super pods, because the resources probably outweigh the demand.”

Over the weekend, the OC Health Care Agency began offering walk-in shots to people at the super sites, like the Anaheim Convention center. 

Normally, people have to register for an appointment through the county’s registration service, Othena. 

State and local public health officials are grappling with coronavirus vaccine hesitancy, pandemic conspiracy theories and supply constraints.

Read: OC Supervisors Keep Coronavirus State Of Emergency, Again Say Vaccine Passports Won’t Be Forced

Gov. Gavin Newsom said state officials are seeing a dip in people getting vaccinated at the super sites. 

“People are starting to pull back a little bit,” Newsom said at a Thursday news conference. “We’re starting to see folks not showing up for their second shot.” 

Newsom said state officials will continue working with a host of community organizations in an effort to boost vaccines.

“We addressed not just the supply constraints, which have been significant up until a week ago, but now demand issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

State officials are poised to remove nearly all pandemic restrictions, except masks, June 15. 

Chau said he’s not sure if Orange County will hit herd immunity by then. 

“I am hopeful. I’m a bit nervous to say we will achieve that by June 15,” Chau said, adding there’s supply constraints.

Public health experts say at least 70% of people need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity levels. 

Yet, Newsom, who’s facing a recall election, said he’s confident the state will meet it’s June deadline. 

“If we continue to do what we’ve done, if we maintain momentum … if we keep those numbers up, there’s no question in my mind we’ll move beyond the blueprint by June 15,” Newsom said.

UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said it’s a little too early to tell how much vaccine hesitancy is in the community because the state just opened up shots for everyone 16 and older a couple of weeks ago. 

“I do think the proof is going to be like in two more weeks when we start having more data on what it looks like after we’ve opened it up to more people,” Noymer said in a Friday phone interview. “Up until now there’s been a lot of confusion on am I eligible and such.”

Meanwhile, county health officials have been battling misinformation and have repeatedly said vaccines won’t be forced on anyone, schools won’t become mass vaccination centers and they won’t require vaccine passports. 

And public comment at Supervisors meetings have become a hotbed of vaccine and pandemic conspiracy theories. 

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

Noymer said fighting misinformation and conspiracy theories is a huge challenge. 

“‘The earth is flat, prove me wrong in five sentences,’ is kind of the game that’s being played here,” Noymer said. “It’s tricky, because it takes longer to debunk a bunch of BS than it does to just say a bunch of BS. There are no microchips in the vaccines — this is partly why I feel like trusted members of the community can play a constructive role.” 

He said not only can supervisors and local city council members promote the vaccine more, but corporations should also be stepping in. 

“I would love to see public service announcements from like Ducks and Angels and Disney,” Noymer said.  

There’s also a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans on the vaccine.

Chapman University’s Orange County Community Survey found 81% of Democrats said they would get vaccinated, compared to 58% of Republicans — a finding that matches national surveys. 

Mike Moodian, a Chapman University political science professor who helped conduct the survey, said there’s a few different factors at play in the division.

Some of it comes from the evangelical community because their churches were shut down during the height of the pandemic, until a Supreme Court decision allowed them to reopen with some public health restrictions. 

“The other factor that we see is, I believe, a whole ideological threat to Libertarians and those who hate big government. So if something is perceived as a big government initiative, you’re going to get pushback from those who despise big government,” Moodian said in a phone interview last Thursday.

He said “elephant in the room” is former President Donald Trump.

“The former president never had a consistent message on how to handle the pandemic. There’s been a lot of recommendations not based on science in terms of what drugs to take that were not endorsed by the FDA and some statements weren’t based in any sort of reality,” Moodian said, adding that if Trump did a public service announcement, more people could change their minds on vaccines. 

The state is waiving some taxes and fees for small businesses following a $6.2 billion tax cut bill signed by Newsom last Thursday. 

Newsom said some fees, like start up businesses fees or alcohol license fees, will be waived in an effort to bolster small business profits. 

Orange County’s virus hospitalizations dipped to their lowest levels since the pandemic began over a year ago. 

On Monday, there were 95 people hospitalized, including 21 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 4,969 people — nine times more than 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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