Health officers concerned about vaccination hesitancy

Aim is to reach herd immunity

Now that the state has deemed all residents 16 and older eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, local health officials worry about how to convince more people to get the shots.

“If we can’t convince enough people that these vaccines are worth getting, we’re not going to get to the herd immunity that we need to get our community back to normal,” said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

Vaccine hesitancy can keep a community from developing herd immunity, health officers said. Herd immunity is defined as the point at which enough people have become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely.

Some refuse the vaccine because of their convictions while others simply want to delay it, adopting a “wait and see” attitude.

Hesitancy or refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is based on a variety of reasons.

Among them, worry about the speed in which vaccines were developed or the opinion that COVID-19 was never a problem to begin with, Berry said.

“Even if you think COVID-19 isn’t a big deal for you or even if you’re in a pretty low-risk group, the biggest reason to get vaccinated is for the sake your whole community,” she said.

”It’s to stop transmission so we can be done with this and get back to our lives. It’s worth it to do that and get the vaccine.”

As of Thursday, millions of people nationwide have received the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Berry said as she urged North Olympic Peninsula residents to sign up for available appointments as soon as possible rather than waiting.

COVID-19 vaccines are free, regardless of insurance coverage.

Herd immunity is expected to be seen once 70 to 80 percent of the community has been vaccinated, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Officials do not expect everyone to agree to be vaccinated, and it’s believed that it will be difficult to reach the 70 percent line, Locke said.

As of Monday, Clallam County has had 44,78 percent of its population (34,381 people) start vaccinations, with 34.61 percent (26,573) fully vaccinated. Jefferson County has had 53.7 percent of its population (17,286 people) start vaccinations, with 38.63 percent (12,434 people) fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

About 1.5 percent of total COVID-19 cases in Washington have resulted in death, Locke said.

“That’s a very high fatality rate,” he said.

In comparison, influenza mortality is about 0.1 percent or one person out of 1,000, he said.

Some people who have survived COVID-19 are still living with symptoms of the disease months after their initial sickness — those known as long-haulers — and some were not severely sick with the disease to start with, Locke said.

When people consider getting vaccinated, they have to weigh the risks of possible side effects of the vaccines against the health risks of contracting COVID-19, said Locke.

“In life we don’t any choices that are 100 percent safe and 100 percent risk free,” Locke said. “There’s always a risk with every choice, but there’s benefits as well.

“All vaccines — all medical treatments for that matter — have rare risks that are associated with them and the only reason you would ever take that risk is because the benefit is so much greater. Ultimately, it’s entirely voluntary. We would never try to compel anyone to be vaccinated at this point,” he continued.

“Our goal is try to make the vaccine available to people who want it and have been waiting for it for a long time.”

The pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be temporary while experts investigate possible connections to a rare type of blood clot suffered by six women within 13 days of receiving the vaccine, which has been given to about 6.85 million people, Locke said.

There have been no such connections seen to Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines, Berry said.

The pause does hamper vaccination efforts, as people were excited for a “one and done” vaccine shot and now have to wait, as well as fueling fears about the vaccine, Berry said.

“It’s really rare outcome,” she said. “I think it’s also a marker of how seriously we take the safety of vaccines, with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) willing to pause an entire vaccine effort because of that rare of an outcome.

“That’s a marker of transparency that they were willing to do that.”

Vaccination clinics

Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one currently approved for people 16 and older, while J&J and Moderna are approved for people 18 and older.

The state has created a vaccination locator at https://vaccine locator.doh.wa.gov.

Appointments for Jefferson Healthcare’s clinics can be made at https://jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.

Appointments for both Saturday and Sunday clinics at Port Angeles High School can be made at http://vaccine.clallam.net/register or by phone at 360-417-2430. Appointments for April 24-25 also are open.

Jim’s Pharmacy in Port Angeles has Moderna appointments available on April 20, 21 and 25. Appointments can be made at jimsrx.com.

Jefferson County Public Health’s appointment-only Moderna vaccination clinic this Saturday at the Chimacum School District Multi-Purpose Room is full, but appointments can be for the April 24 clinic at bit.ly/jeffcovax or by calling 360-344-9791.

Forks Community Hospital has a Moderna vaccination clinic scheduled for April 30. More information can be found at www.ForksHospital.org.

Case counts

Clallam County confirmed one new COVID-19 case Thursday, while Jefferson County held steady with no new cases.

Clallam County has confirmed 85 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 7.39 percent of the 1,150 cases during the past year, according to county data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 17 cases so far in April, about 4.68 percent of the 363 cases in the past year, according to county Public Health data.

Forty-two COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had seven active cases.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 111 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Thursday, while Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of about 53 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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