The first round of COVID-19 vaccines is estimated to arrive in Orange County, California, by Dec. 15, according to county health officer and Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau.
The shipment is expected to be just over 25,000 doses, which will be reserved for the most high-risk health care workers, such as those who work in the ER and ICU, as well as respiratory therapists, said Chau.
“Orange County is ready. We have the freezers, we have all the capability, we have the process worked out. We worked with the individual hospitals,” Chau said during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 8.
At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be working with major pharmacies to allocate and distribute additional vaccines to long-term care facilities for residents and staff. Chau said the number of vaccines that will be available through this procedure to Orange County is not yet known.
Chau said the first vaccines intended for the hospitals will arrive accompanied by a U.S. Marshal and must be guarded by 24-hour security. They must also be kept at a temperature between minus 80 and minus 90 degrees.
“We will transfer them via dry ice to the place of delivery, and then they will thaw it, but the minute it’s thawed two degrees, they have to use it up within five days, otherwise they have to discard the vaccine,” he said.
The county is also developing an app to help keep track of people who receive the vaccine and if they experience any side effects. These individuals must also be notified after 21 days to come back for a second dose in order for the vaccine to have the maximum effect, Chau said.
Vaccines are expected to be available for the general public in the county in late spring or early summer. Those who have already had the disease are advised to go ahead and get the vaccine anyway, due to limited immunity.
Orange County will remain under a new regional stay-at-home order from Gov. Gavin Newsom for the next three weeks due to an increasing number of hospitalizations from COVID-19.
At the end of those three weeks, the state will take a look at the region’s ICU bed availability, and if the number is 15 percent or above, the lockdown will end. Individual counties will then go straight to the appropriate color tier in California’s COVID-19 monitoring system.
Sixty-four Orange County residents signed up to speak at the Dec. 8 board meeting, and four additional public comments were read aloud by county staff. Most speakers criticized the stay-at-home order and asked county officials to disobey state guidelines.
“What it is urging is that the governor change his orders and allow for local control, not that this board ignore those orders,” said Wagner.
“Those are individual decisions that businesses and the people that make up our communities are going to have to decide for themselves. I have my own thoughts. That is a decision that everyone needs to make.”
However, Chairwoman Michelle Steel, who was elected to Congress in the November election but has yet to resign her seat on the board, was critical of the governor’s order and asked Orange County CEO Frank Kim to draft a memo for the board outlining the legal and financial consequences if the county chooses to violate the state’s COVID-19 regulations.
“People cannot work,” she said. “How are we going to survive?”