The news this week that the COVID-19 vaccine can now be given to anyone 65 and older in Orange County was met with a mad rush of people hoping to get their shot, but for many of them, it was a struggle to get an appointment or even get the designated app and website to work.
So what is in the works to address the situation, and what should people know if they’re eligible for the vaccine but haven’t gotten it yet?
Here are some of the questions and concerns Orange County Register readers have, and the most up-to-date answers we could get. (In some cases, plans are still fluid or information was unavailable.)
Q: The OC Health Care Agency said to use the Othena website or mobile app to register and make an appointment to get vaccinated. Why didn’t it work for me?
A: A big issue is a limited number of appointments and very high demand, with some readers reporting the Othena website was down when they tried it and others saying there were no appointment slots open. County officials have said they’re working on some technical issues with the site.
So far only one large-scale public vaccination site has launched – Disneyland, which opened Wednesday – that can currently handle about 3,000 to 3,200 people per day. Appointments are being scheduled for no more than three days out because the county depends on the state for its supply of vaccine doses, and officials don’t want to have to cancel anyone’s appointment because shots weren’t available, county CEO Frank Kim said.
It’s a frustrating math problem. County health officials said Wednesday they had about 42,000 doses already on hand, with a shipment of 35,000 more expected next week. That’s 77,000 inoculations – and there are roughly 800,000 people now deemed eligible to get the vaccine in OC, including about 200,000 health care workers and other top-priority public servants, plus about 600,000 people in the 65-and-older group, county spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said.
While more doses (about 170,000 in all) have been sent to Orange County, Kim said a majority of the vaccine went to hospitals and large health networks, which have been vaccinating their workers and have discretion in how they distribute the shots.
“The challenge is that currently the demand is outstripping the capacity, and that’ll get better,” Kim said. “The difficulty is we’re looking for predictability (in vaccine supply) so we can design a longer-term appointment slot.”
Q: How do I know if I’m eligible to get the vaccine? Can I just show up at the Disneyland site?
A: County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau, after consulting with Orange County’s vaccine task force, recently decided to open up inoculations to anyone 65 and older, whether or not they have other health conditions, because that age group currently makes up the majority of OC residents in hospitals with COVID-19, as well as most of the people receiving intensive care and requiring ventilators.
Most health care workers – including paramedics, home health aides and urgent care and dental clinic staff – and some law enforcement employees working in higher-risk settings also can now be vaccinated.
But please, county officials say, don’t come without an appointment. They won’t be able to accommodate walk-ins and it will slow down the process for everyone.
Q. So what should I do if I still need to make an appointment?
A: It may take some persistence. County health officials are advising people to call their doctor or health provider first, although a number of readers said they did and were told that the provider could not currently vaccinate them or had no information.
As to Othena (www.othena.com), Kim said the site is being updated and any bugs fixed regularly, so that may be why some people can’t get it to work. “We’re advising people to check throughout the day – there is not a specific time” that batches of appointments open up, he said.
The county is also working on adding a confirmation feature so users know they’ve successfully registered and, if they’re in a category that’s not yet eligible for inoculations, they’ll be notified when it’s their group’s turn.
As of Thursday afternooon, Kim said all available appointments were full, but county officials are working to add capacity and expect to open more large-capacity sites like the one at Disneyland in the next few weeks.
“We don’t have enough vaccine for everyone that wants it today, but vaccine availability is growing week to week as is our capacity, so we ask for their patience,” he said.
The county has not indicated how people who don’t have or can’t use a computer or smart phone can make an appointment, but health agency officials promised more information on that “within the next few days.”
Q: What should I expect when I get an appointment, and how long will it take?
A: First, bring an ID such as a driver’s license to verify your age. Health care workers need an employee badge, letter from their employer or something else that proves their occupation.
Plan on at least a short wait. You’ll have to check in and be screened before you get your shot. On the first day at the Disneyland site, it took some people an hour and a half to get through the process, but Kim said the process had already sped up a bit by Day 2. If the forecast is for hot weather, officials suggest waiting in the car until close to your appointment time.
After getting the vaccination, everyone is asked to wait about 15 minutes so site staff can make sure there are no adverse reactions to the shot. It’s expected to take 30 to 40 minutes from start to finish when everything’s running smoothly.
County officials have said Othena is also designed to remind users who have received their first shot when it’s time for the second (both vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are two doses) – it should be about three weeks later.