As Supply Struggles Hamper County’s COVID-19 Efforts, Just 3 Percent of Residents are Fully Vaccinated

February 4, 2021 Updated: February 8, 2021

Less than three percent of Orange County residents have been fully inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the most recently available regional health data.

California Immunization Registry numbers, posted to Orange County Health Care Authority’s (HCA) COVID-19 dashboard, indicate 86,806 residents had been inoculated with both doses of the vaccine as of Feb. 1. The county’s total population is approximately 3.18 million.

About 177,890 people, or nearly six percent of the overall population, have received their first injection since Orange County recorded its first inoculation last Dec. 16. It opened its first super point of distribution (POD) at Disneyland Jan. 13.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said although the HCA has the capacity to move faster, its efforts are being slowed by the state, which allocates the public health agency just 20 percent of the county’s overall doses. The remaining 80 percent are distributed among private healthcare facilities.

“My grave concern at this point is that we have the bandwidth to expand our number of vaccinations on a daily basis, but we’re being hampered by the state because we’re not getting enough vaccine doses,” Bartlett said. “We have the bandwidth to double or triple our daily vaccinations, but we don’t have the vaccine doses to do so.”

Right now, the region is actively vaccinating those in Tier 1A, a top priority category that includes critical health care staff, skilled nursing facilities, those aged 65 and older, and more.

County of Orange spokesperson Molly Nichelson said about 600,000 residents qualify for vaccinations under Tier 1A, meaning the county is about 30 percent through its first round of inoculations.

This is despite between 5,000 and 7,000 vaccine doses being distributed daily at Orange County’s two super points of distribution (POD) centers at Disneyland and Soka University.

An estimate of how long it will take the county to complete Phase 1A will depend on the amount of supply distributed to the HCA by the state, Bartlett said.

“That is our most significant issue right now as we only get a couple days’ notice of the number of vaccines coming down to the county and then we start to set up scheduled appointments based on those doses,” she said. “So, it’s hard to say when we’re going to get through [the first phase] because we don’t know how many doses are coming down to the county every week, and that’s very frustrating for us, because it’s really hard to plan.”

The exact number of inoculated residents is difficult to accurately calculate, she said. The HCA says there is a reporting lag with updating immunization records, and Bartlett said it’s possible some hospitals are not reporting administered doses regularly.

“It’s hard to get that breakdown because we don’t know on a daily basis,” she said. “We pretty much know what we do through our PODs, but there’s no real reporting mechanism that’s a good gauge of what’s happening with the healthcare system side of things. They’re getting the majority of the vaccine doses.”

Both vaccines that are currently available require two doses. It’s recommended that the booster shot is administered within three or four weeks after the first shot.

Bartlett said that the county is doing everything possible to guarantee that residents are able to receive their second dose in time.

“We’ve got to segregate and say: ‘OK, we know since we started vaccinating 21 days ago for Pfizer, 28 days ago for Moderna, these dates are starting to come up for these second doses for people,” she said. “So, with the vaccine doses that are coming into the counties, we know we have to take a look at on this day we need to start scheduling second doses, in addition to first doses.”

As far as the next vaccine POD site opening, Bartlett said the county won’t open a third distribution center until there is a consistent flow of vaccine supply arriving in the county.

Once enough vaccines are allocated, the new site is reportedly going to open at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis