Vaccination clinics in hard hit areas for children over 5 could help boost the Latino community’s shot numbers and close the persisting gap.
“Masks can only do so much and social distancing can only do so much … so we do have something in our control and that is deciding to protect ourselves and our loved ones with the vaccine,” said Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer at Share Our Selves — a local community health clinic.
Lee and his colleagues have been focused on vaccinating some of Orange County’s hardest hit areas — from Costa Mesa to Santa Ana.
In a phone interview last week — when the vaccinations for children 5 and up were first approved — Lee said the more people there are vaccinated, the chances of a new COVID-19 variant emerging lessen because the virus is spreading less.
“The best way to squash the cycle is the vaccine,” Lee said.
Now, Santa Ana Unified School District officials are hoping to make getting vaccinations easier on some of Orange County’s hardest hit residents by launching shot clinics for children 5 and up.
“There’s a lot of different schools that actually have that going on,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, pediatrician and deputy OC health officer, in a Wednesday news briefing.
She also said schools are partnering with numerous organizations — from pharmacies to state health officials — to roll out the vaccine clinics.
“Most of the schools that are actually offering the vaccines are in the areas that were hit the hardest — so there are several in Santa Ana, Orange, then even southern Orange County,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
She said she didn’t have the names of the schools readily available during the news briefing
The idea of vaccinating children has raised concerns among many parents throughout OC, while others welcome the idea — especially following the announcement early last month of expected shot mandates from state officials.
State public health officials said the mandates could kick in either January or July, depending on when federal officials fully authorize the vaccines for children.
Since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s vaccine announcement, scores of parents have been showing up to local school board meetings to oppose the expected mandate.
Many expressed concerns about the safety of the vaccine, while others welcomed the shots and the incoming mandate.
Some parents argued that children aren’t at high risk of the virus.
And other parents have been threatening to pull their kids out of school if the mandate goes into effect.
UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Sanghyuk Shin, said it’s rare for children to experience extreme side effects of the vaccine.
“The pandemic is new, the vaccine development — all of that is new. But from all of the data I have seen, the data strongly shows that it’s highly effective in preventing COVID -9 and that it is also very safe,” Shin said in a phone interview last week.
He also said myocarditis — heart inflammation — is very rare in children who receive the vaccine.
“Myocarditis can occur after the COVID-19 disease, which can be very severe. With all that said, the benefits outweigh the risks — substantially,” Shin said.
While school districts are rolling out vaccination clinics, Chinsio-Kwong said county public health officials are focused on mobile pods in Latino communities and hard hit communities allowing other partners to help schools with the vaccine clinics.
Orange County’s Latino community has the largest vaccination gap, while also struggling with the highest number of cases and deaths.
“We know that the Latino and low socio economically populations have not had the same access to vaccines as other groups in the past, when they were first rolled out for COVID,” Leal said.
It is not just in Santa Ana.
Latinos across the county have been hit hardest by the pandemic and have the lowest vaccination rates across the state and in OC — a persisting gap since COVID vaccines first started going into arms.
In Orange County, the Latino community makes up 35% of county residents, while experiencing 44% of overall cases and 38% of the deaths, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Latinos also make up a little over 35% of OC’s vaccine-eligible residents, but only 22% have received at least one shot, according to state data.
At the same time, hospitalizations have slowly increased, and positivity rates have somewhat stabilized in recent days as public officials fear a potential virus spike this winter.
Santa Ana Unified School District officials hope the clinics will create easy access to the vaccine across their community.
Close to 200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for kids were administered at Willard Intermediate School Tuesday.
“The community around Willard was heavily impacted by COVID. So that’s why that school is one of our target schools for clinics and we are hosting clinics at other schools that are also kind of strategically placed in communities that are the hardest hit,” said District Spokesperson Fermin Leal in a phone interview Tuesday morning prior to the clinic.
That clinic also offered the regular dose of the vaccine for kids 12 and older. The district has been hosting clinics for teenagers 16 and older at school sites since February and for kids 12 and older since May.
In Orange County, almost 7,800 doses of the pediatric vaccine for kids five to 11 have been administered since their emergency use authorization — over 3,000 of which were administered Tuesday, according to Chinsio-Kwong.
“Yesterday’s numbers reflect a very healthy demand in our community for vaccines,” Chinsio-Kwong said Wednesday. “I expect though, that as we get closer to the weekend, like on Thursday or Friday, and if the kids are off Thursday, I’m expecting that the numbers will be much higher.”
She also said the county’s health care agency will also update their website to reflect pediatric vaccine percentages this week.
The next Santa Ana Unified clinic will be held Today at Heroes Elementary School for kids five and up.
Santa Ana — whose population is 77% Latino — has been the hardest hit city in OC when it comes to the pandemic.
Nearly 90% of the district’s student population come from low income families and 96% are Latino, according to the district website.
Because the city was so impacted by the virus, the district was one of the last in the county to reopen classrooms to students.
State public health officials said they’ve been working with local health departments and school districts to plan for vaccination clinics ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the shot in late October.
But some of the other OC districts and the County’s department of education have said they have no plans of hosting vaccine clinics at schools.
Chinsio-Kwong, pediatrician and deputy OC health officer, encouraged concerned parents to speak to their child’s pediatricians about getting the vaccine and ask them questions in a private setting.
There are also other resources she said
“We have a lot of different organizations who are hosting town halls. A lot of pediatricians in the community are also posting information sessions. CHOC is posting a lot of information sessions, there’s a lot of different resources for everyone,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
Meanwhile, Leal said the district plans host as many clinics as possible.
“Our goal is to have them in as many of our sites as possible, going forward, so everyone in our community has equal access to vaccines, so you don’t have to travel or go across town or whatever. It would be in your neighborhood,” he said.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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