Vaccinations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have recently slowed all over the U.S., including in Washington state and on the Key Peninsula, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health.
Pierce County residents were getting jabbed at a rate of 6,300 per day in April; now it’s down to 2,600.
Some of the lowest numbers in the county are on the KP, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
The highest percentage of KP vaccination was for residents living between Minter and Home at 53%. The lowest was north of Vaughn at 34%. TPCHD rates for the south end of the peninsula include Anderson and McNeil islands, skewing the 42% result.
County vaccinations of at least one dose averaged 54% with 44% fully vaccinated by mid-June. Statewide, those numbers were 67.8% and 56%. The DOH target is 70% of residents 16 and older receiving at least one dose by June 30 for a full reopening of the state.
Rates increased temporarily after Gov. Jay Inslee announced the “Shot of a Lifetime” lottery June 3, which promises cash, tuition credits and other prizes in drawings spanning five weeks.
Anyone who is vaccinated is supposed to be automatically entered but some federal records are not routinely shared with the DOH, including those of veterans vaccinated through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Inslee announced a new, separate lottery June 18 for anyone vaccinated through the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs or the National Guard. There will be one drawing a week for three weeks starting July 20.
Vaccinated persons can check their inclusion in the lottery at the DOH website or by calling 833-829-4357.
Reopening the state could be delayed or rolled back if statewide hospital ICU capacity reaches 90% at any time. That rate at press time was 84.1% including 9.1% COVID-19 patients.
According to DOH, case counts were either flat or declining in most counties at the end of May. In Pierce County, the count dropped 74% since December and hospitalizations fell from 14 per 100,000 in January to 5 in mid-June.
“Vaccines are playing a major role in these hopeful statistics,” said TPCHD.
But Washington’s infection rate for unvaccinated people in June was as high as its peak in January.
In a June 5 statement, DOH announced that “Over the two-week period ending May 9, the hospital admission rate for unvaccinated people ages 45-64 was about 21 times higher than the rate for fully vaccinated people of the same age. Among people ages 65 and older, the hospital admission rate was about 13 times higher in unvaccinated people.”
The longer people remain unvaccinated, the greater the chance that more transmissible variants will rapidly mutate and spread among them, especially if they have given up wearing masks and social distancing, according to DOH.
“Things are getting safer for those who are vaccinated,” Umair Shah, Washington’s secretary of health, said in May. “For those who are unvaccinated, they remain at risk... (They) are the ones who are not wearing a mask or washing their hands. Those are the very people who oftentimes will socialize and be around similar, like-minded people. You’re going to have the pandemic continue in those clusters.”
A March poll from the Monmouth University Polling Institute found that 25% of Americans are unwilling to be vaccinated. Partisanship was the main indicator with 36% of those being Republican and 31% independent compared to 6% Democrat.
Participants cited a variety of reasons: lack of access to vaccines, concern about side effects and the FDA approval process, disbelief that COVID-19 is dangerous, a belief in one or more conspiracy theories, and lastly, philosophical objections.
If vaccination rates stall, the U.S. would be vulnerable to a pandemic resurgence due to the spread of COVID-19 variants among the unvaccinated, including immunocompromised people who are unable to get vaccinated, according to DOH.
The RAND Corporation found in a new report that the spread of misinformation and disinformation over social media has fueled vaccine hesitancy. In March the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center identified four publications as fronts for Russian intelligence. “Their websites played up the vaccines’ risk of side effects, questioned their efficacy, and said the U.S. had rushed the (vaccines) through the approval process, among other false or misleading claims.”
A report published earlier this year by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate found that just 12 individuals and their organizations were responsible for almost two-thirds of all vaccine disinformation posted on Facebook and Twitter.
“Our research has proven that social media platforms are too slow to take action against disinformation networks with millions of followers, and remove just one in eight posts containing Covid or vaccine misinformation,” it read.
One recent example was shared about “the gene therapy shot” to a KP Facebook group June 10. It read, in part, “The absolute INSANE desperation to get everyone vaccinated should give every single one of us pause: Actual scholarships & lotteries?! When in history has this EVER happened? For a non-FDA approved product? There is NOTHING normal about this. In fact, it’s terrifying.”
In reality, lotteries and other incentives have been used to promote public health before, from a 1950s tuberculosis treatment in the United Kingdom, to anti-smoking efforts in the U.S. in the ’80s, to AIDS-HIV prevention in Africa in the 2000s.
In addition, all of the COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. have been approved for emergency use by the FDA. They were developed rapidly because of concurrent rather than consecutive clinical trials of messenger RNA technology that has been in use for a decade, instead of the traditional and more time-consuming live virus vaccine culturing, according to the FDA. The vaccines are also under evaluation for permanent approval this year. Approval will allow marketing after the pandemic emergency has ended.
According to guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the NIH), vaccines accepted by the FDA for emergency use authorization are overseen by a panel of scientists independent of the manufacturers and the government officials who would approve it.
In addition, Washington, Nevada, Oregon and California formed the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup to further evaluate the vaccines after FDA emergency authorization. It approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Dec. 13 and the Moderna vaccine Dec. 20. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved April 24.
“The FDA is publicly sharing information about COVID-19 vaccines so you can see the evidence for yourself,” according to its website. “The FDA’s analysis of clinical trial data, as well as demographic information about the clinical study volunteers, is available in the FDA Briefing Document for each vaccine. You can also view the advisory committee webcasts where outside experts discuss the data. The FDA’s reasoning for authorizing each vaccine is available in the FDA Decision Memorandum.”
Anyone 12 years or older is eligible for a free Covid vaccine. Appointments are available at Cost Less Pharmacy, St. Anthony Hospital, Costco, CVS and Walgreen’s in Gig Harbor. Vaccinations are available for homebound people through the TPCHD.
For more information, call 253-649-1412 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. seven days a week or go to www.tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture.
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