Omicron variant prompts call for increased vaccination

Health officer: No Thanksgiving surge seen at this point

As a case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the United States, the North Olympic Peninsula health officer is strongly urging residents to seek vaccination and booster shots if they haven’t already.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday. It infected a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, three days before scientists in that country announced they had found the new variant.

All residents 18 and older who received their vaccinations more than six months ago are eligible to receive a booster dose, and all residents 5 and older are eligible to be vaccinated.

Preliminary reports say omicron has a higher possibility of reinfection of COVID-19 in people who only gained immunity from the virus through infection and not through vaccination, said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“We’re still gathering data on omicron and assessing the variant as a whole, but what we have seen is an early indication of increased reinfection,” Berry said.

“If the immunity you have now is only because of a prior infection from COVID, we would strongly encourage you to get vaccinated to protect yourself from COVID generally, but especially from omicron.

“The other early indications that we’re seeing is being fully vaccinated and especially having that booster is going to play a key role in having that immunity.

“If you are eligible for a booster and you haven’t gotten one, we would encourage you to do so.”

Berry said she has heard from some residents that if they got a booster, it would take vaccine away from someone else in another country.

That’s not the case, she said.

Global inequities in vaccine distribution are due to the amount delivered to some counties and the fact that some nations lack the infrastructure to deliver the shots to residents, she said.

“We have to work that on a national and policy level, but if there’s a vaccine here for you and you’re eligible for a booster, I would encourage you to take it,” Berry said. “Skipping a booster here is not going to send it to a person in the Global South.”

Residents can find vaccination appointments and booster dose appointments using the state’s vaccination locator at www.vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.

According to the latest data from the state Department of Health, 82.7 percent of the population 12 and older in Jefferson County have started vaccinations, with 78.4 percent fully vaccinated.

Of the entire population, 76.1 percent have begun vaccination and 72.1 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

In Clallam County, 77 percent of the population 12 and older have started vaccinations, with 72 percent fully vaccinated.

Of the total population, 68.4 percent have begun vaccinations, with 64 percent fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

No surge so far

Health officials continue to monitor new cases closely due to the potential for a surge caused by the Thanksgiving holiday, but so far no increase has been seen, Berry said.

“It’s still pretty early, but it’s hopeful so far,” Berry said. “It will be interesting to see.

“This is the first time we’ve had the holidays with vaccinations available. The majority of both our counties’ residents are vaccinated, so that may well shield us from a large-scale Thanksgiving surge. It remains to be seen.”

On Wednesday, Clallam County added 22 cases of COVID-19. The county has confirmed a total of 5,295 cases since the start of the pandemic, county health data said.

Jefferson County added eight cases on Wednesday. The county has confirmed a total of 1,311 cases since the pandemic began, according to county public health data.

Clallam County had a case rate of 175 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Wednesday, according to county public health data.

Jefferson County will update its case rate on Friday due to last week’s Thanksgiving holiday. Health officials recorded a case rate of 192.61 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Nov. 17.

Neither county reported a death due to COVID-19 on Wednesday. Clallam County has had 72 residents die from COVID-19, while Jefferson County has had 19 residents die of the virus.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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