Orange County seniors 65 and older can now get coronavirus vaccinations after public health county officials who support the vulnerable group at priority levels.
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County of Public Health and Director of the OC Health Care Agency, Dr. Clayton Chau, said a meeting was held with an emergency vaccine task force on Sunday night.
“Almost all of them signed that call Sunday night,” Chau said at the County Supervisor’s public virus update on Tuesday. “We are starting to vaccinate seniors aged 65 and over in Orange County and add them to Level 1a.”
Health workers and first responders are also listed at this level.
The new push for seniors comes after widespread criticism of slow vaccinations, not just in the OC, but across the state.
After seeing a slow rollout of state public health officials, local health departments called up and down the state, warning them to increase vaccination efforts or risk losing some of their doses.
“The state was in a panic,” Chau said.
Chau told supervisors that Orange County received additional doses from other counties “that can’t do it fast enough.”
“So we had 170,000 doses given to us. We left nothing behind, ”said Chau. “Because we left nothing in the state, the state gave us just 6,000 more doses this morning.”
The renewed vaccination efforts also come after concerns from local doctors, dentists, nurses, medical staff and other health professionals who are not affiliated with hospitals.
Hospital staff were the first to start the two-part vaccination process last month when OC received the vaccines.
Chau said seniors should contact their primary care physicians to help set up appointments to start vaccinations.
“We have a pharmacy supplier working with us for free,” said Chau.
According to a press release at the end of last year, hundreds of elderly care facilities are to receive vaccines.
“The program will enable counties to utilize CVS and Walgreen’s pharmacy staff to administer the vaccine more broadly with pharmacy staff going directly to care facilities. Skilled nursing facilities receive vaccine from CVS and Walgreens staff. Approximately 72 qualified nursing facilities and 900 nursing homes will be vaccinated against CVS and Walgreens throughout Orange County, ”the statement said.
Chau said county officials are also looking to set up smaller vaccination sites for the vulnerable population, which should not be around large crowds.
Efforts to vaccinate the elderly come after dozens of elderly readers raised their concerns about getting their first doses via emails to the Voice of OC.
Meanwhile, medical workers are being vaccinated at three locations throughout the county, including the Orange County Fire Authority headquarters in Irvine.
Skilled workers – doctors, nurses and medical assistants – must Sign up an appointment time in advance, there are no walk ups.
The sites are estimated to vaccinate 800 to 1,000 people a day, according to Health Agency officials in an email on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no appointments were available.
“Please come back regularly,” the site said.
Disneyland is set to become the first of five vaccination superites.
Last week, Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi told Voice of OC the other major vaccination sites will be at Knott’s Berry Farm, Orange County Fairgrounds, The Great Park and Soka University.
Chau said, “it is rumored” that the federal government is destined to send more vaccines to California.
But at a Tuesday press conference, the secretary of the state agency for health and human services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, no details on when more vaccines will hit the state.
Ghaly said they will announce “the prospect of getting more vaccine supplies in the coming days.”
The state has set a goal of 1 million new vaccinations by the end of the week.
Orange County public health officials have set a target for herd immunity on July 4 – meaning 70%, or over 2.2 million people, must be vaccinated by then to reach that goal.
Chau said the five major vaccination sites should administer approx. 8,000 doses per day if OC is to meet the July 4 target.
There is still no time frame for when the major sites will open.
“We are rolling it out based on the amount of vaccine we can get into Orange County. So we will not open them all if the vaccine is not available, ”Chau said.
While officials are fighting for more vaccines, county admissions fell slightly.
As of Tuesday, 2,200 people were hospitalized, including 535 in intensive care units, according to the county health agency.
“Currently, the highest number is ever in the hospital compared to our summer rise,” Chau said at Tuesday’s supervisor meeting.
Hospitalization trends appear to be stabilizing somewhat this week, after daily figures kept shattering records for at least a month in a row.
But deaths have risen.
The virus has now killed 2,148 people out of 195,685 confirmed cases, including 28 new deaths reported Tuesday.
Recently reported deaths can drag on for several weeks due to reporting delays.
Over the past week, 222 new deaths have been reported.
OC also saw 3,824 new cases reported Tuesday.
The county has an average of over 3,300 new cases a day in the past week.
State public health officials estimate that approx. 12% of all newborns end up being hospitalized within three weeks.
This means that there may be more than 2,700 more hospitalized in the coming weeks, as hospitals discharge stabilized patients as quickly as possible.
The virus has already killed more than three times as many people as the flu on an annual average.
In context, Orange County has averaged about 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
According to 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 stroke kills over 1,300 people.
Orange County has already surpassed its annual average of 20,000 deaths, with 21,110 people dying in November, according to latest available condition data.
It is a difficult virus for the medical community to tackle because some people show no symptoms but can still spread it. Others feel small symptoms such as fatigue and mild fever.
Others end up in ICUs for days and weeks before doing so, while other people eventually die from the virus.
Ghaly said early data indicates the long-feared holiday wave is not what bad officials originally thought, but said it is still too early to say whether cases stemming from the holiday season will create a new peak on top of a peak.
“We still expect there to be a bump in the middle of the month.”
Here’s the latest on Orange County virus numbers from county data:
Infections | Admissions and deaths By-by-by-data | Demographics
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC employee reporter. You can reach him [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio