COVID-19 Shots Speed Up In Orange County As Health Networks Join the Race

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

The Orange County government’s mass coronavirus vaccination drive is no longer the main option in town as traditional health networks ramp up immunizing their own elderly patients.

Together, county representatives and health care providers – including large players such as Kaiser Permanente, Providence, and UCI Health – had administered about 265,000 first and second doses to 221,000 people by Jan. 31, according to the OC Health Care Agency’s latest figures.

The shots are speeding up. Administrators have more than doubled the average number of shots given daily since mid-January to about 12,000 per day.

The county Health Care Agency’s vaccination network so far consists of two fixed Super PODs (points-of-distribution), one at a Disneyland parking lot and the other in Soka University’s gym, as well floating mobile PODs – single-day clinics aimed at giving shots to specific senior groups in their neighborhoods.

Six of the pop-up clinics have been held so far. County health officials have said the locations and timing are intentionally kept under the radar to avoid a rush for vaccines by people outside the high-risk target group.

“This is a big week for us,” said Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, deputy agency director of the Health Care Agency’s Public Health Services. Feb. 3, marked the third week since county officials opened the first Disneyland site, meaning people this week will start returning for their final second doses.

“Both Soka and Disney are going to be functioning at full capacity this week,” Bredehoft said, between 5,000 and 7,000 vaccinations per day.

While thousands have successfully navigated Othena to the needle-in-arm finish line, several users have had to troubleshoot issues.

Bredehoft said county staff continues to work with Othena developers to smooth out issues. She said people who have registered once should not try to register again; doing so would just create a second account that may cause confusion until staff merges both accounts.

The Health Care Agency has set up a hotline at 714-834-2000 to field questions about Othena, vaccine appointments, and troubleshoot issues.

Currently, the system is meant to work its way through registered people and send invitations to those next in line to make appointments when the next batch of vaccine doses are available.

Comments made by Health Care Agency director and county health officer Dr. Clayton Chau during a virtual town hall on vaccination on Jan. 21 suggested staff were considering registrant’s coronavirus risk while assigning appointments.

However, pre-existing medical conditions aren’t yet a factor in who gets appointments first, per state guidelines, Bredehoft said.

“We go by (date of birth), that’s how we get their age,” Bredehoft said. The only criteria to meet is being 65 or older. “The system is an algorithm; there’s no human intervention at this point.”

People who registered should double-check that the information they provided to set up their account is correct, and should check the inbox of the email they provided frequently for an appointment invite, she said.

Bredehoft said if someone missed their email invitation, the system should circle back to them.

County staff is being careful not to get ahead of themselves calendaring appointments for people when vaccine supplies are so limited and near-term, Bredehoft said.

“It’s like a trade-off: I can’t promise appointments through the end of February, but the appointments I can do (will be) a good experience,” she said.

Bredehoft said she requested that the Othena developers add a sort of “now-serving” tracker to the app, so people who registered can see when people are being invited to get vaccines based on the date they registered to get an idea of who might be next.

The Health Care Agency tweeted on Feb. 3 that people who registered with Othena and are in the virtual waiting room will receive an email later this week with a status update.

The feedback Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett has received has been mixed: People leaving the Soka site in Aliso Viejo – in her District 5 – are grateful to have received their shot, while others call and email her office, frustrated by the Othena sign-up process and a lack of other options.

“There’s no doubt that demand far exceeds the supply at the moment,” Bartlett said.

For now, low vaccine allotments are holding the county back from setting up more large-scale shot sites, including a potential drive-thru.

“We would love to set up more Super PODs within the county, but we can only do so if we’re guaranteed additional doses of vaccine coming our way,” she said.

Ultimately, five mass vaccination sites are envisioned, county officials have said.

After weeks of inoculating their own staff and with more certain supplies of vaccines, public and private health networks that serve Orange County are moving on to elderly patients.

With none of the fanfare that surrounded the first vaccinations of its frontline staff in December, Kaiser Permanente – Orange County’s largest provider with 585,000 members – began administering shots to members age 75 and older on Jan. 11.

At that time, the vaccines were given “upon request and to avoid vaccine wastage,” said Dr. Michael E. Morris, physician director of Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

“We began active outreach on Saturday, Jan. 23, via text messages and phone calls,” Morris said.

Kaiser Permanente patients who are 75 and older can schedule their vaccination at kp.org/covidvaccine and click “Make a vaccine appointment,” which prompts users to log into an account. A call center is also available at 833-574-2273.

UCI Health and Kaiser Permanente are Leaders Circle partners of the Greater Irvine Chamber, at the platinum and gold levels, respectively.

Category: COVID-19, Leaders Circle, Greater Irvine Chamber, Health Care