Freezers stocked with COVID-19 vaccine

Peninsula health officials eye reopening on Wednesday

Their minds are open to all ideas for vaccination clinics and their freezers are stocked.

The North Olympic Peninsula’s public health officials said this weekend that the COVID-19 vaccines are in good supply. Yet too many people are still holding off on getting the shot, leaving themselves — and those too young or immunosuppressed to be vaccinated — vulnerable to the disease.

Vaccination sites have been set up at Peninsula restaurants, coffee shops, farmers markets and the Port Townsend Food Bank, where “we got some takers,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County Health Officer.

There has been some interest among faith leaders in immunization clinics held after church services, he added.

Those are in the works, Locke said, while “we’re really looking for ideas. We want to hear from anyone who wants to sponsor [a vaccination event].”

In Clallam County, 37.8 percent of the 12-and-older population eligible for vaccination hasn’t yet started the process. In Jefferson County, 27.1 percent have not yet initiated their doses.

The state’s lottery for prizes given to people who did choose to be vaccinated didn’t have much impact, Locke said.

“I’m afraid the next phase of incentives won’t be as positive: people seeing their unvaccinated friends and family getting sick and getting hospitalized,” he said.

Across the Peninsula, 98 people have gone to the hospital with severe COVID-19, many of them to intensive care, since the pandemic response began. Twelve people have died of the disease in Clallam County, while in Jefferson County, four have died.

In his briefing last Monday to the County Board of Commissioners, Locke said nearly a quarter of people who contracted COVID continue to suffer after the acute phase.

Profound fatigue, brain fog, loss of taste, shortness of breath and chest pain are among the “long COVID” symptoms that can last for months, he said, even among people who weren’t seriously ill at first.

“We’re seeing this in children too,” Locke said.

Kids younger than 12 aren’t eligible for vaccination yet, so they are especially vulnerable to catching COVID-19 from a teenager or adult who has chosen not to be immunized. That person might develop a mild or asymptomatic case — and pass the virus on to someone whose immune system can’t put up a fight.

“The biggest thing to speak to is the idea that people are not getting vaccinated because of personal preference. People say their immune system is strong, so they think they will be fine,” said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County Health Officer.

“Getting vaccinated is not something you do just for yourself,” though; “it’s something you do for the people in your life, the people in your community,” she added.

Berry hopes people will take into account the others they come in contact with, such as elders, those who are immunocompromised due to medication, and children.

Getting the shot, she said, “is a very minor inconvenience that could save your neighbor’s life.”

On Friday, Berry reported “one piece of good news”: one COVID-19 survivor has gone home from Olympic Medical Center.

By this weekend, five other Clallam County residents were still hospitalized, and the county had returned to the high-risk category, with the number of people infected so far this month reaching 101.

In Jefferson County, which has the state’s second-highest vaccination rate, 30 people have been reported infected in June.

San Juan County is the most-vaccinated in the state while King County is in third place and Clallam in eighth.

This Wednesday is the day when Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to lift most COVID-related restrictions — indoor dining and movie theater capacities, for example — across Washington state.

“We expect the risk to go up, instead of go down,” for unvaccinated people to become ill with COVID, Locke said.

The reasons include the Gamma variant, which has appeared on the Peninsula. This Brazilian strain, said Locke, is more transmissible and appears to cause victims to suffer more severe illness than the original coronavirus.

The three vaccines — the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer shots and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson — protect against that severity, he said.

Information about vaccination clinics is found on the Jefferson County Public Health and Clallam County websites, while the state has a vaccination locator at https:// vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which allows users to see where appointments are available and which vaccine will be used.

Locke hopes immunity to COVID is motivator enough for people to get vaccinated but added there are other factors coming: employers who exercise their right to verify their workers’ immunization status, for one, or concerts open only to vaccinated fans.

As for the availability of the vaccines, “we’ve got all three flavors,” he quipped, “and we’re ready to go.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsula dailynews.com.

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