Demand for COVID-19 vaccines is so high in Orange County that officials said the app and website to make an appointment for one at Disneyland crashed Wednesday morning and some people who showed up without making a reservation had to be turned away.
The county was “overrun by demand” as officials continued to iron out some of the logistics of the new vaccination site, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
The county’s app for vaccine appointments — Othena — still has some “things we’re working on,” Kim said. “But by and large it’s working… The number one complaint I hear is the app crashed on me: I’m over 65 and I can’t get on the app.”
Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said, “The app might not have all of the bugs worked out, and add on top of that the less tech-savvy, who are the most demanding of the vaccine and most deserving of vaccines, and you have a bit of a cluster, but we’re working through it.”
Wagner said, however, that the opening of the new site “is a game changer from what I’m led to believe by the medical professionals. This is the cavalry riding over the hill. At this point you’re still looking at many more months before you can get enough of the vaccine in enough arms, but you’ve got to start somewhere and this is a good, big start.”
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett agreed.
“This is a huge milestone for our county,” Bartlett said.
And despite some of the confusion and some people having to be turned away, traffic was never too much of an issue Wednesday, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Shane Carringer.
“It did get backed up before they opened,” Carringer said. “A lot of people were unaware they needed an appointment. Everyone expected some growing pains with this, but it wasn’t too bad.”
Police never got to the point of having to issue a traffic advisory to the community, the sergeant added.
“Fortunately, Disney is an expert in getting people in and out quickly” of the theme park, Carringer said.
Officials are aiming to vaccinate 3,000 people a day now, but hope to build capacity to 7,500 to 8,000 daily, Bartlett said. That will help accelerate moving through the various tiers of residents who qualify for shots initially and get it to the general population, Bartlett said.
“The quicker we can vaccinate the population within Orange County the quicker we’ll get to herd immunity and fully open our economy,” Bartlett said.
At some point the super sites will expand hours from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m., Bartlett said. Officials, however, need volunteers, who are encouraged to register at volunteers.oneoc.org/special-event/a182I000007VTf2. Volunteers who sign up for 40 hours in 10 four-hour shifts will get vaccinated on their second shift, Bartlett said.
The county needs a range of volunteers from people who can vaccinate residents to people who can help direct traffic and who can help with online technology.
Bartlett emphasized that it is important for residents to make an appointment for shots.
“We do need to stress that if people do not have an appointment they should not just show up,” Bartlett said.
An appointment can be made through a doctor or the Othena app. The appointment process is important because for now officials have a certain amount of vaccines each day and need to coordinate according to that, Bartlett said.
Wednesday’s technical hiccups were dwarfed by the sight of vaccinations, Kim said.
“All I see are people here getting vaccinated and it’s wonderful,” Kim said.
Officials have ordered more tents to help residents get shade while waiting for shots, Kim said. Many showed up early for their appointments so they were directed back to their cars so officials could ensure the required physical distancing, Kim said.
The vaccine distribution center at Disneyland will be one of five regional mega-sites throughout Orange County.
It’s not clear where the next site will be opened, but county officials have an agreement with Knott’s Berry Farm as another location to inoculate residents.
Also under consideration are the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa and possibly UC Irvine. Soka University was another site under consideration.
The mega-sites are technically called “super PODS,” an acronym for Point of Distribution.
“We don’t have all of these things worked out,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said of other possible sites. “A lot of it will depend on the amount of vaccines that will be coming to Orange County. There’s no point setting up Super PODS if we don’t have vaccines to keep it running.”
The county’s goal is to inoculate 7,000 residents daily at each site, Do said.
“If you open up one more site that’s 14,000 a day,” he told City News Service. “That’s a lot. That’s almost 100,000 a week. So the question is do we get that quantity? We hope so, but that’s a very ambitious goal.”
Ultimately, the county will be shooting to vaccinate at least two million people to achieve the 60% to 70% herd immunity that would halt the virus’ spread, Do said.
In the meantime, officials said the county can’t just repurpose its testing sites into vaccination sites because COVID-19 is still rampaging through the community.
“In the middle of a surge with record high numbers it’s not the time now to pivot away from testing,” Do said. “I see this as our first significant step as a county to take back our county from COVID. This is now us fighting the virus and defeating it by getting a lot of people vaccinated.”
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved hiring the Idea Hall public relations firm to help officials persuade skeptical residents to get the shots. A big focus will be on getting through to residents in lower-income communities where there is a language barrier or other impediment to learning about the safety of the new vaccines, which require two doses.
Do said officials need the help “overcoming fear and misinformation.”
He noted that residents in the poorer neighborhoods are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“When they get COVID they get a lot sicker and die more often and they drive up the numbers that the state looks at and in turn that will keep our economy closed, so it benefits all of us to really look at all of these low-equity communities and help to control the growth of the virus there,” Do said.
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