On Saturday’s cold and showery morning, some light broke through in Orange County’s battle with the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The county opened its second Super Point-of-Dispensing, or POD, vaccination site at Soka University in Aliso Viejo.
With 1,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on hand, the inoculations began. Eventually officials hope to ramp up to delivering 3,000 to 4,000 doses a day at the site, seven days a week, as long as supplies are available.
Currently the county has about 66,000 doses of vaccine, which are being delivered at the super PODs and smaller mobile sites. Disneyland was the first large site to open.
The county receives only about 20% of the overall supply designated for Orange County, with the rest going to hospitals and private health care providers. And officials have said supplies from the state and federal government have been slower to come than anticipated.
Since the Disneyland site began dispensing vaccines on Jan. 13, more than 21,000 doses have been distributed – the recent windstorm closed down the operation for two days.
However, even if it was going full tilt with adequate supplies, the county would have a long way to go to fill demand. According to Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, Orange County has more than 600,000 residents currently eligible, which includes those 65 and older and frontline health and emergency workers.
The county is considering opening as many as three more Super PODs countywide, once it is receiving enough vaccines to keep them going.
South County need
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, whose Orange County Board of Supervisors fifth district includes the Soka campus, said having a large site in the southern part of the county is crucial, with more than 140,000 seniors in the district, including at the large nearby Laguna Woods senior community.
“It’s absolutely critical to get the most vulnerable vaccinated,” she said.
With a large number of volunteers available, Bartlett said the county has the “bandwidth” to meet demand quickly, but adds, “we can only use the vaccine available. Every dose is being shot into arms as quickly as possible.”
Aliso Viejo Mayor Tiffany Ackley said she has a personal stake in having her city host a large site. She has first-hand experience with the virus.
“My mother had COVID twice,” she said, of Ann Keith, 77, who had to be hospitalized and undergo ventilation both times before recovering. “I had to stand outside not knowing what was going on.”
For that reason, she said she is particularly gratified to have the Soka University site now in operation.
County officials have set July 4 as a target date to finish vaccinating 3.2 million O.C. residents.
Smooth sailing on Day 1
Celia Lugo, 65, and her daughter, Lauren, ducked out of the Soka University gymnasium between the showers.
“Yay, we did it,” Lauren Lugo said, stopping to take a selfie with her mom.
The Laguna Niguel residents were grateful to have the site open so close to their home.
“It went smoothly,” Celia Lugo said. “I expected it to be worse.”
Despite reports of glitches in the reservation system, Othena, the county is using and shortages in doses, attendees at the event reported no problems upon arriving.
Registering on-site was usually completed within 20 minutes and the entire process was completed in less than an hour.
“It was very fast. The shot was nice and easy,” Kathy Aliman, 67, said of the process. “I waited maybe 15 minutes.”
After sitting for another 15 minutes to make sure there were no adverse side effects, Aliman was ready to drive back to her Santa Ana home.
Signing on to register and secure the appointments for their vaccination time slot was more problematic for many, and the newly inoculated were glad to put that behind them.
County officials said this week improvements have been made to the system and there is help available through a hotline for navigating its use, but they also ask for people’s patience.
Lauren Lugo said the online website to register crashed several times.
Aliman registered on Christmas, but only received notice the day before her appointment that a dose was available to her.
Richard Sklar, 77, and his wife, Mary, 67, of Huntington Beach, registered within a day of each other, but only Richard received an email to make an appointment.
Although Mary expects it may be several weeks before her vaccine, she said, “It’s a small price to pay.”
“Once we got here it was smooth,” Richard Sklar said, although he did suffer a flat tire on the drive to Soka University.
Supervisor Doug Chafee, vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, continued during a press conference at Soka University on Saturday to urge patience, noting that when the county receives doses for all those interested is out of its control.
“People want to get their lives back to normal,” he said. “We’re working to make sure (vaccines) get in the right arms at the right times. This is a long term process.”
Vaccines at the county-operated Super PODs are available for registered individuals who meet criteria. Appointments are available through Othena.com, and appointments are scheduled based on vaccine availability. People can also contact their health care providers.
Identification and proof of eligibility at the Super PODs are required.
To view a list of those who are eligible to receive a vaccine, visit the OC Health Care Agency’s website: occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/phased-approach-vaccine-distribution.
For questions related to COVID-19, visit ochealthinfo.com/novelcoronavirus, or follow the HCA on Facebook (@ochealthinfo) and Twitter (@ochealth).
For those needing assistance, there is a COVID-19 hotline at 714-834-2000; Medical questions: Health Referral Line: 800-564-8448.