Operation Independence, Orange County’s goal of reaching the herd’s immunity against coronavirus before the July 4 holidays, could be a twist if those hesitant to get vaccinated don’t act soon.
Promoted as a goal by which health officials would complete a countywide vaccination program, sleep quickly fades as demand for first doses plummets and state vaccine shipments are diverted.
“If we want to achieve herd immunity before July 4, we would need at least 600,000 people in our community who want to be vaccinated against COVID between earlier this week and July,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong , deputy said the health officer of the Orange County Health Employment Agency, last week.
OCHA reports that approximately 54% of the county’s 3.2 million residents over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of vaccine, far from the 70% needed to reach the lowest threshold for herd immunity.
Demand for appointments has dropped by 75% since April, prompting the agency to announce last week that it would close its four remaining super vaccination dispensaries from June 5 and instead , would concentrate efforts on community and mobile clinics.
Chinsio-Kwong said the agency has denied Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s weekly shooting assignment for the past two weeks, so supply would not exceed demand.
If these trends continue, the long-awaited goal of returning Orange County residents to pre-pandemic levels of health and safety will not be achieved until the end of the year.
“At the current rate of people reaching their first doses, realistically, we are looking at Labor Day,” Chinsio-Kwong said.
Approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (which opened appointments to some 159,400 teens in Orange County) could boost efforts to achieve herd immunity.
However, even if all children ages 12 to 15 received the Pfizer vaccine, it would only account for 4.9% of the population in Orange County.
OCHA began offering appointments to younger residents last week through its Othena smartphone app, in what Chinsio-Kwong called a “soft launch.”
Due to its approval for use by younger populations, Pfizer is the only vaccine allocation the agency still accepts. A batch of 28,000 doses arrived Thursday, Chinsio-Kwong said.
Huntington Beach neighbor Emma Jeffery did not wait for the official news before booking a date for her 14-year-old daughter, Tegenn.
Born with a congenital heart defect, the teen’s health condition kept her family in needles throughout the pandemic, even after Jeffery, her husband and their 16-year-old son had been vaccinated.
“We haven’t been to a grocery store in the last 15 months. We haven’t even been to a restaurant, ”he said. “We’ve been literally like a small island in our home.”
Jeffery had already scheduled an appointment for Tegenn when, about an hour later, he saw people on Facebook talking about vaccines being made available to under-16s at a CVS pharmacy in Fountain Valley.
“I was constantly checking my tabs on the computer – it was exactly like getting a ticket for the concert,” he said. “I was desperate for him to get the shot.”
Julia Bendis, a professional surveyor living in Rancho Santa Margarita, was vaccinated at the county’s Soka University super site in early March, but had to wait much longer for her 15-year-old son, Nikolas, to be eligible. .
When he heard last week’s news, he went online right away, scheduling Nikolas for a slot at Laguna Woods Rite Aid, a week before his 16th birthday.
“If this is something we will have to get every year, we may get it now,” he said.
A much tougher sell-off was Nikolas ’brother Tyler, 21, a young UC Santa Cruz man who has maintained skepticism about the vaccine. It took his parents a while to convince him to change his point of view.
“We told him he probably couldn’t go to college in person or participate in an internship he had gotten,” Nikolas said. So he went to get his first dose. “I’m delighted,” his mother said.
Chinsio-Kwong said as the interest in vaccines dwindles, health officials are urging vaccinated residents of Orange County to have serious conversations with friends and loved ones who are still hesitant to receive a shot.
“There needs to be a grassroots effort in the community to reach out to those who may still have questions,” he said. “The community knows better what barriers and challenges still exist and needs to be overcome.”
If Orange County wants to achieve COVID-19 independence, he added, this is the best and only hope.
Cardine writes in Times Community News.