The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has not been rolling, even for our critical health care workers who were supposed to have been vaccinated by this point.  By late January, only one-third of the available 1.3 million vaccine doses in California had been administered.  That is simply unacceptable! 

State public health officials have warned the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) that the County’s vaccine rollout has been much too slow.  We have had several months to develop a distribution plan for a vaccine we knew was coming.

It has been nearly a year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Orange County.  Throughout the pandemic, our medical community has demonstrated remarkable professionalism and commitment in caring for patients while working without the leadership and critical resources they should have received.  Doctors, nurses, technicians, janitorial staff, and all of the essential workers have put their lives at risk to take care of us this past year.

In addition, scientists — including those at UCI — worked around-the-clock to come up with a life-saving vaccine.  And their hard work paid off.  In just months, a safe and effective vaccine was developed, tested, thoroughly reviewed, and made available for global distribution.

What has been sorely lacking throughout the pandemic is leadership from our government, on pretty much every level.

We need elected leaders we can count on to take swift action to immediately establish a robust vaccination program.  This is the gateway to COVID-19 recovery.  Every day that goes by without a wide-scale vaccination program costs lives and further debilitates our local businesses, our schools, and our entire community!

The COVID-19 statistics in January were devastating here in Orange County.  In addition to 75,208 new cases reported in January, it was the deadliest month on record since the COVID-19 pandemic began; 1,187 lives were lost across the County in just 31 days.  Irvine reported 3,567 new cases and 27 deaths during the month of January.  That’s more than double the total number of lives lost in Irvine between March and December.

The County finally launched a COVID-19 vaccination distribution webpage (click here) at the end of January with information on how the County intends to roll out the vaccination program.  This planning and logistical work should have been done months ago when the federal WARP Speed program announced that the vaccine would be ready for mass distribution by the end of 2020. 

To learn more about the County’s program, I reached out to colleagues who are working closely with the vaccine distribution team.  They told me that they are still waiting for direction from Orange County’s Health Officer, Dr. Clayton Chau.

So, what are leaders in Irvine doing to help?  Upon taking office, Mayor Farrah Kahn formed her COVID-19 Task Force and her Small Business Task Force to address the City’s worsening pandemic and economic devastation.

In late January, the Mayor announced the first initiative for her COVID-19 Task Force.  I expected the initiative to include plans to immediately launch a City mass vaccination program at the Great Park, in cooperation with UCI, Hoag, Kaiser, and other Irvine-based medical providers.  Instead, the initiative simply asks residents to send in a pledge card committing to doing their part to protect the community by following the State-ordered masking and physical distancing protocols.  This is not the emergency action we need at this moment.  We need to get vaccines into the arms of thousands of Irvine residents without any further delay!

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH
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