Vaccinations at the O.C. Fair? With county infections rising, officials say it’s worth a shot

Maxim Healthcare Services site manager Karen Hsu, right, helps any walk-up guests at the OC Fair who qualify for a vaccine.
Maxim Healthcare Services site manager Karen Hsu, right, stands with her team at the OC Fair for any walk-up guests who qualify for a vaccine. The Orange County Health Care Agency and the OC Fair & Event Center teamed up to provide the site in an effort to help promote countywide vaccine rates.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

At the O.C. Fair, it’s time for fun — and COVID-19 vaccinations.

With just 58% of Orange County residents having been fully inoculated against the coronavirus as of Thursday, health officials are seeking new ways to reach the vaccine hesitant and resistant, including hosting a vaccine clinic at the popular annual festival.

For the record:

2:42 p.m. July 30, 2021An earlier version of this story indicated the vaccination clinic will be open each day of the fair. It is closed on Saturdays.

Starting this week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday until the fair ends Aug. 15, the Orange County Health Care Agency will offer free vaccinations on a walk-in basis inside the fairground’s Costa Mesa Building.

OC Fair & Event Center Executive Director Michele Richards said throughout the pandemic, the site has held food distributions, COVID-19 testing and, for a time, served as one of five county-run vaccination super PODs (points of dispensing). So, it just made sense to volunteer some prime fair real estate to the cause.

“We’ve been with people since the very beginning on the forefront of the fight against COVID-19,” Richards said Thursday. “We’re thrilled we can continue that effort with the vaccine clinic.”

Staffed by a handful of healthcare workers, the small set-up will be able to dispense up to 100 doses of either the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine each day, with the capability of ramping up to more if the demand is there.

“The partnership with the OC Fair & Event Center allows us an opportunity to make sure that people are aware that vaccine clinics are available at various locations throughout the county seven days a week,” Anza Vang, OCHA’s chief of strategy and development, said by email Thursday. “People are gathering and we want to be where they are to provide them with information about how to protect themselves.”

In addition to opening the small on-site vaccine clinic, Richards said fair officials offered 750 free tickets to HCA to distribute as incentives to attract residents to clinics outside the fairgrounds. Those tickets are now being offered on certain days at a clinic at Huntington Beach’s Golden West College, one of 30 clinics weekly operating throughout Orange County.

“Golden West College was selected on several factors including its location among the areas with higher testing positivity percentage, lower vaccination rates and case rates above other cities,” Vang said Thursday.

Getting younger crowds interested in vaccination is an important step if Orange County is to ever reach herd immunity. Currently, people under the age of 35 are the least likely to be vaccinated — about 60% of those aged 25 to 34 have been fully inoculated, compared to 88.6% of residents aged 65 to 74, according to OCHA figures.

Meanwhile, new infections are rising more rapidly among people under 35. The agency reported Thursday 522 new coronavirus cases, with nearly 68% of infections occurring in those under 35, compared to nearly 8% among residents over 65.

The availability of vaccines at the O.C. Fair, on par to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors even with limited attendance, may help remove any final barriers to vaccination that have been keeping people from receiving protection from the virus.

The way Richards sees it, it’s worth a shot.

“We strongly believe in vaccination — that’s the key to ultimately fighting the virus,” she said. “And there’s no better way to make it easy for people to get vaccinated. Come to the O.C. Fair, get your shot and then have fun.”

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