The North Olympic Peninsula’s two counties are running a tortoise-and-hare race — one both can win.
This, said Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke, is one topic of ongoing discussions with his Clallam County counterpart, Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry, as COVID-19 vaccinations roll forward.
A third vaccine, the single-dose inoculation manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, gained final FDA approval Saturday, giving a major boost to the effort to immunize the nation.
In this all-out race, Clallam could be seen as the hare. As of this past week, 33,793 vaccine doses were given there while Jefferson County’s dose number was 11,026, according to the state Department of Health.
Clallam has one of the state’s highest vaccination rates, Locke noted: 26.83 percent have received at least one dose. In the much smaller Jefferson County, it’s slightly over 24 percent.
Yet the coronavirus is still spreading locally. Two new cases, including a child who is infected, were confirmed Friday in Clallam County.
“We have 16 known active cases,” Dr. Berry said Saturday, adding Clallam’s total has reached 1,001 since last March.
In Jefferson County, Locke also reported two new cases confirmed Friday. He noted that six people are in isolation with COVID-19 while another 15 are in quarantine, having been identified as close contacts of an infected person. Both of Jefferson’s new cases, Locke said, were traced to a visitor from Seattle who was showing no symptoms at the time of contact with the Jefferson County residents. The visitor ended up testing positive, as did the two people here.
“This a precarious part of the pandemic that we’re navigating,” Locke said. Highly contagious variants of the virus are in circulation, putting the nation in a race to vaccinate people as fast as possible.
“If people let down their guard and tell themselves the risk is over, they’re really in danger,” Locke added.
Physical distancing from people outside one’s household, face masks that fit and hands that are washed multiple times daily are as critical as ever.
The nation is edging, at a painfully slow pace, toward immunity, either from COVID-19 infection or vaccination.
Clallam County “has had these incredible surges” of immunization, Locke said, at vaccination sites such as Port Angeles High School.
Jefferson County, as the tortoise to Clallam’s hare, has been relatively slow and steady in inoculating its first-phase residents.
All of this could ramp up in mid- to late March, Locke said. He and the Jefferson County Health Department are already planning vaccination events at Chimacum High School as large shipments of vaccine arrive.
“We’ll eventually use all three high schools,” adding Quilcene and Port Townsend, he said.
In Clallam County, Locke attended — and was duly impressed by — two Port Angeles High School vaccination events.
“They’ve been learning as they go,” he said, while “we’ve benefited from the experiences of others.”
For information about vaccination clinics in Clallam County, see olympicmedical.org/covid-19-vaccine- information. In Jefferson County a list of sites is found at jeffersoncountypublic health.org/1429/COVID-19, while people without internet service can phone 360-344-9791.
The Port Angeles High School vaccination clinics will expand starting the first weekend in March to include residents who are 50 and older and live in multi-generational households.
Clallam residents who qualify can make appointments at at http://vaccine.clallam.net/register. Those who must schedule by phone can call 360-417-2430.
Appointments during the month of March at Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Sequim clinic will open at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Jefferson Healthcare, meantime, is making appointments for vaccinations through its “When is it my turn?” list, which Jefferson County residents 65 and older or Jefferson Healthcare patients can sign up for at https://jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.
Locke noted that shipments of doses from Pfizer, Moderna — and now Johnson & Johnson — will accelerate through spring and summer. Eventually another two vaccines, now in trials, could be added to the arsenal. Vaccination events, he said, will be giving shots to thousands of residents “for months and months.”
This is a local and national marathon, Locke added, and one that challenges each runner to hang on for a distant finish line.
“In terms of the endgame of getting population immunity up to 80 percent,” he said, “we’re maybe a quarter of the way there.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]