SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — Orange County's COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped and the county is nearing 2.1 million fully vaccinated residents, according to data released Thursday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals dropped from 326 Wednesday to 304 Thursday, with the number of patients in intensive care ticking up from 85 to 87, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The last time hospitalization rates were this low was the end of July.

What You Need To Know

  • The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals dropped from 326 Wednesday to 304 Thursday

  • The number ICU patients ticked up from 85 to 87

  • The last time hospitalization rates were this low was the end of July

  • The county logged eight more fatalities Thursday, six of which occurred this month

The county has 21.5% of its ICU beds available and 66% of its ventilators.

The number of fully vaccinated residents in the county increased from 2,069,128 as of last Thursday to 2,096,177 Thursday.

That number includes an increase from 1,932,614 to 1,958,145 of residents who have received the two-dose regimen of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna. The number of residents receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine increased from 136,514 to 138,032.

There are 202,513 residents who have received one dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The county's case rate for fully vaccinated residents as of Sept. 18, the latest figures available, was 4.4 per 100,000, but 21.4 per 100,000 for the unvaccinated.

There are 455,680 of the county's 3.2 million population 11 years old and younger, and so ineligible for any vaccine.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said he hopes hospitalization rates descend as the number of residents get vaccinated.

"At some point you want to see lower numbers than 300," Noymer told City News Service.

Noymer favors opening up booster shots to the general population, but he's concerned there is vaccination fatigue.

"There are people already starting to have these online vibes that three shots are too many and they won't do three shots," Noymer said. "I'm kind of nervous about it."

Experts say there is waning immunity with vaccines or through natural infection, but scientists say research shows a booster shot increases the immunity enough to prevent serious illness.

"Israel had a huge wave after they were pretty well vaccinated," Noymer said. "Now Israel's pandemic has fallen quite a bit. The bad news is that the last I checked, they had 30% receiving a third dose and it's probably 40% now, and they got it to fall partly by doing third doses, and that's a lot more than what we've been doing. I think Israel is a cautionary tale for us and I fear we're not paying close enough attention to boosters ... I don't think we're going in a booster direction with enough gusto."

Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UCI Health Family Health Centers, said the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control experts reviewing Pfizer's proposal for booster shots approved them for people 65 and older because that is the demographic they had the most data on.

"The experts in these committees are looking at data and making sound assessments on what is presented and they don't want to make assumptions it can be expanded to all ages," Mayorga told City News Service.

Pfizer booster shots have been only approved for those 65 and older or adults with significant health risks or frontline workers in positions of heightened risk of infection.

"The FDA and CDC are extremely conservative in the way they approve any medication, treatment or device when it comes to our health," Mayorga said. "They're going to look at these things very closely and weigh information that is evidence-based."

Weekly averages, released on Tuesdays, showed that the county's weekly case rate per 100,000 residents improved from 15.3 last week to 11.3, while the positivity rate fell from 4.7% to 3.7%.

The county's Health Equity Quartile positivity rate — which measures progress in low-income communities — dropped from 5.1% to 4.2%.

The county logged eight more fatalities Thursday, six of which occurred this month. The September death toll rose to 39. One of the fatalities was in August and another happened in January.

The cumulative death toll is 5,371.

The death toll for August stands at 136. That marks a stark contrast with the rest of the summer. The death toll for July was 22, with 19 in June, 23 in May, 46 in April, 199 in March, 615 in February, 1,580 in January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 975 in December, the next deadliest.

The OCHCA also reported 304 new infections Thursday, raising the cumulative total to 294,871 since the pandemic began.