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Health

OC won’t start vaccinating teachers, food workers for at least two weeks – OCRegister

Orange County will wait at least another two weeks before offering COVID-19 vaccine shots to educators, food service workers and others who are newly eligible under state guidelines, county Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said Tuesday. Feb. 9.

The additional time will help the county get through a waiting list of people 65 and older who haven’t been vaccinated yet, Chau told the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

So far, about 100,000 of Orange County’s seniors, plus most of the county’s health care workers who wanted shots, have been inoculated, Chau said – but those two groups together equal more than 700,000 people, and vaccine supplies continue to be limited.

Chau said with the county getting only about 37,000 doses a week from the state, inviting more people to compete for them would just lead to more frustration.

“We’ve only at best vaccinated a quarter of them (seniors) – I cannot open up the door for more of them to come in when we still have the same number of vaccines,” he said.

After kicking off vaccinations of health care workers in mid-December, Orange County was one of the first to offer shots to anyone 65 and older starting about a month ago.

Chau followed the recommendation of the county’s vaccine task force and opened appointments to seniors after seeing statistics from about a dozen hospitals that showed about three quarters of the people hospitalized with serious complications or dying from COVID-19 were in the older age group.

The county’s vaccine task force, as well as a supervisors’ ad hoc committee, agreed with the decision to stay focused for the next two weeks on those 65 and older, especially those most vulnerable and in parts of the county that have active hot spots of the virus, Chau said.

Statewide, Orange County is second behind Los Angeles County with the largest percentage of residents in the 65-and-older bracket, he said. Neighboring Long Beach has been able to vaccinate its health care workers and smaller population of seniors and has now opened up appointments to teachers, Chau said.

Orange County’s health agency gets about 20% of the doses designated for the county (most go to major medical providers that serve multiple counties and pharmacy chains), so Chau has to rely on third parties and the state for information on how the rest of the vaccines get used.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the state’s vaccine database is plagued with incomplete or inaccurate information, including missing ZIP codes of many residents who were inoculated, which is making it harder for county health officials to figure out where to target outreach and set up clinics.

“The state database is so erroneous it’s affecting our second dose levels,” she said, adding that Los Angeles County this week had to halt new appointments to catch up on follow-up shots.

“Until we can get accurate ZIP code information we’re not really going to know what’s happening in underserved areas,” she added.

Chau told supervisors that in addition to the super sites at Disneyland and Soka University and a weekend mobile POD (point of dispensing), the county health agency is working with community clinics and nonprofits to bring vaccinations to people in neighborhoods with high infection rates or who may have trouble getting to the two big sites.

Officials are planning vaccination sites in Santa Ana and Anaheim, which include neighborhoods with some of the county’s highest infection rates, and additional pods may be coming to Santa Ana College and Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, Chau said.

The Othena platform the county has for people to register for vaccines and make appointments last week added support in Spanish and on Tuesday added Vietnamese and is “moving swiftly” to add Korean and Chinese, Chau said.

The county’s hotline, 714-834-2000, can help seniors who aren’t tech savvy with the process.

“We have had staff able to speak Vietnamese and Spanish on the hotline,” Chau said, adding county officials recognize that might not meet demand and are in process of contracting with a call center and training its staff to add to the number of people the hotline can serve and in what languages.

Chau has asked for residents’ patience as the county works through the challenges of vaccinating about 3.1 million people with a limited supply, and he repeated that request Tuesday, though he said he hopes for many the wait will end sooner rather than later.

A panel of the federal Food and Drug Administration is set to meet Feb. 26 to consider allowing use of Johnson & Johnson’s new vaccine, which only requires one shot and would help ease the supply problem.

“If the FDA authorizes it, presumably the following Monday or Tuesday (March 1 or 2) we should have our first shipment of Johnson & Johnson in Orange County,” Chau said.

“I look forward to a month from now when we have plenty of vaccine … to offer to any of our citizens who want the vaccine.”

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