Today, the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan authored by Chairman Andrew Do and Vice Chairman Doug Chaffee to establish the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Pilot Program, designed to improve direct access to vaccinations for individuals who live in the hardest-hit communities by the pandemic.
“Direct access to the COVID-19 vaccine among our most vulnerable individuals is critical,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and Chairman of CalOptima.
“Today’s action will help prioritize our Medi-Cal eligible seniors to receive their vaccine, most of whom do not have access to the internet,” he added.
As the largest health insurer in Orange County, CalOptima provides health care services to 801,270 low-income children, adults, and people with disabilities in Orange County through partnerships with private health networks.
“As we broaden our vaccine distribution plan in Orange County, it is imperative that we focus on equity as a key principle and work with CalOptima to identify and address disparities in access to the vaccine for our vulnerable populations,” said Vice Chairman Doug Chaffee, Fourth District Supervisor.
Under the Vaccine Equity Pilot Program, the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) will work with CalOptima to provide direct access to the COVID-19 vaccine to its members and follow the State’s tiered vaccine process through community clinics, private health network systems, and ambulance providers, among others. This program will augment the financial efforts CalOptima is doing to address the ongoing pandemic.
The magnitude of COVID-19 is extraordinary and significantly impacting Medi-Cal beneficiaries and providers throughout the region. The approximately 25% of Orange County residents who rely on CalOptima for their health insurance includes:
- Seniors age 65 and older;
- Beneficiaries living with high-risk medical conditions;
- Beneficiaries residing in long-term care facilities; and
- Beneficiaries experiencing homelessness.
Hardest-to-Hit Communities in Orange County
According to CalOptima data, members ages 65 and older primarily reside in approximately 15 zip codes across the County. The majority of the identified zip codes are in the cities of Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Garden Grove. These cities are also the communities hardest hit by COVID-19, accounting for over 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, and are disproportionately likely to enter hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) due to severe COVID-19 illnesses.
COVID-19 deaths among older adults have increased dramatically since November, exceeding those in July and August.
Despite a disproportionate harm suffered by the hardest-hit communities, the latest data from the HCA shows that out of 108,812 vaccine doses reportedly administered thus far, only 12% were given to Hispanic individuals, and 30% to Asian and Pacific Islander individuals. Furthermore, less than 20% of doses were given to individuals aged 65 and older.
Community Outreach and Trusted Messengers
As part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce, Chairman Do and Vice Chairman Chaffee will rely on trusted community messengers and share vaccine-related information in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows persistent gaps and racial disparities in flu vaccination among adults. Analysis of flu vaccinations show lower rates of vaccination among Black and Hispanic individuals compared to White individuals.
“What we see from many communities of color is a hesitancy that is rooted in historical reality,” said Chairman Do. “Providing accurately and culturally appropriate information is crucial as we aim to achieve herd immunity.”
“Our trusted community messengers will help us develop culturally responsive interventions and direct resources to ensure the equitable distribution of the vaccine across a diverse number of racial and ethnic groups in Orange County,” said Vice Chairman Chaffee.
Today’s plan today calls for up to 1,000 COVID-19 vaccines per day, as needed to vaccinate the 96,000 CalOptima members who meet the State’s criteria of 65 years and older. The program will expand to meet the State’s tiered vaccine process to ensure communities impacted by the pandemic get direct access to vaccinations.
The HCA is expected to provide an update to the Board of Supervisors on February 9 on the outreach plan.