PORT TOWNSEND — A fourth wave of COVID-19 is a given at this point, but North Olympic Peninsula residents can minimize its impacts by continuing to take precautions, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
More infectious variants of COVID-19 than before have been confirmed in the nation and state, and the U.K. variant is suspected in three cases in Clallam County, Locke noted.
But at the same time, more vaccine is on the way.
“April will be a big push for vaccinations on the Peninsula,” Locke said.
He expects a vaccine for people as young as 12 will be approved by early summer.
Testing of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine on young people between 12 and 16 are in progress now. Pfizer already has been approved for those 16-17 and Modern for those 18 and older.
“The focus this summer will be on vaccinating children and completing the vaccination of adults,” Locke said.
He was referring to young people 12 and older. Testing has begun on children as young as 6 months, but licensing for the very young will take much more time because of the massive difference in physiology between them and adults, he said.
“It’s pretty much a given that we will have a fourth wave driven by variants. It’s just a question of how we will suppress it,” Locke said, adding “we have tools we didn’t have this time last year,” such as vaccines and more knowledge about how to treat the infection.
Locke expects the Peninsula’s increase to be in children and young adults rather than in older age groups.
That’s one reason the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a boon, he added, since younger people have expressed a preference for the “one-and-done” inoculation.
“We’re getting a lot of feedback from younger people that it’s really the vaccine they want,” Locke said.
If Peninsula residents keep up precautions for another few months, by June they may be able to comfortably relax them and remain safe, Locke said.
So far, the Peninsula has had among the lowest infection rates in the entire state, with Jefferson, Clallam and San Juan the top three counties.
“Everyone has worked together really well to suppress the first, second and third waves,” Locke said. “We’ve had milder waves than elsewhere in the state.”
The fourth wave will be driven by a family of mutant coronavirus strains, Locke said.
“All they have in common is that they are more infectious” — the U.K. variant is 50 to 60 percent more transmissible — and so it will “naturally become more predominant,” he said.
In addition to the U.K. variant, there are the Brazilian variant — very rare in Washington state — the South African variant, and variants from California and New York, Locke said.
A cluster of the South African variant has been seen in Eastern Washington, and Canada is experiencing a surge of the U.K. variant, Locke said.
He feels reopening public areas now is not advisable.
“From a public health standpoint, this is all coming too soon,” he said. “People are letting down their guard two to three months early.”
He emphasized the point of wearing a face mask is to protect others from the wearer, who may be a carrier without being aware of it.
“The primary benefit is to other people,” he said.
Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Appointments for Moderna vaccination clinics this Saturday and Sunday at Port Angeles High School can be made at http://vaccine.clallam.net/register or 360-417-2430. The next clinic using Pfizer vaccine in Port Angeles will be April 24-25.
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s vaccine clinics are only booster shots for those who received their first doses from the tribe’s clinic. This week they are on Thursday and Saturday. To register, go to vaccine.clallam.net/register or call 360-681-3447.
Clallam County residents who are 18 and older are eligible. Clallam County photo ID and registration confirmation are required.
Appointments for Jefferson Healthcare’s clinic can be made at https://jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.
The Chimacum High School clinics will resume on April 17 and provide both does each day, Locke said.
The Jefferson County Health Department is finalizing plans for an Aug. 10 Quilcene clinic, he added.
Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category while Clallam County is in the moderate-risk category.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].