Peninsula health officers preparing for vaccine distribution

7 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Clallam County; 5 in Jefferson County

While new confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to be found on the North Olympic Peninsula, health officials are simultaneously gearing up for the eventual vaccine distribution.

Seven new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Clallam County on Wednesday. Jefferson County confirmed five new cases.

The new cases in Clallam County are primarily from Thanksgiving gatherings, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

While the case rate for Clallam County held steady at 195 cases per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Wednesday, Unthank hopes to see the rate start to fall, but it still depends on a potential case surge stemming from the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“We are hoping to see those numbers continue to go down in the near future, but that really remains to be seen and depends a lot on what we see for Thanksgiving gatherings,” said Unthank.

Jefferson County’s case rate is about 110 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Both counties are in the state’s high-risk category.

The new cases in Jefferson County primarily are household contacts of prior confirmed cases, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

“Something we’re unfortunately seeing a lot of is people by the time they determine they have COVID-19, it’s already been spread to another household member,” Locke said.

The Food and Drug Administration is set to evaluate the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) application for vaccine for COVID-19 created by Pfizer today.

If the EUA is approved, the western states’ Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will meet to provide a further level of expert evaluations of the data, which is expected to take one to two days, the state has announced previously.

Once approved, the first doses of the vaccine could arrive in Washington state as early as this coming Tuesday, said Locke.

The public health teams in both counties are currently preparing for the eventual rollout of the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine is logistically challenging, due to needing to be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit, and has to be used within 20 days, Unthank said.

If the first round of shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is approved, Jefferson and Clallam counties are expected to get one unit — 975 doses — each, which are prioritized for frontline health care workers and first responders, Unthank said.

“Another big challenge in the beginning will be, as we anticipated, will be a lot more demand for the vaccine than we have vaccine in the first round,” Unthank said.

There are two primary reasons why health care workers and first responders are at the top priority, she said.

“Those are the folks who are at the highest risk of getting exposed to the virus, but they’re also the people that we need to continue to work and function through a surge of infections,” Unthank said.

“Having them not catch COVID-19 makes everyone safer because it means we can access health care without risk of getting exposed by the people caring for us.”

Vaccinations for the general population not included in priority groups is hoped to start by late spring/early summer, Locke and Unthank said.

“We hope that sometime in the late spring or early summer, we hope that this is just going to be a vaccine that those who have not been vaccinated in the first early waves, that you can just go to any clinic or doctor’s office and ask for the vaccine just like you would for tetanus, flu or any other vaccine,” Locke said

The logistical challenges will be difficult in the early days of the vaccine, he said.

“It’s going to be a huge amount of work, but it’s something we all agree we need to do,” Locke said. “This is how we make it safer for health care workers on the frontline and reduce mortality rate in long-term care facilities and eventually bring the pandemic to a close.”

So far this month, Jefferson County has confirmed 20 cases of COVID-19, about 10.5 percent of the 190 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Clallam County has confirmed 85 cases this month, about 14 percent of the 601 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

There are currently 91 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County and 24 active cases in Jefferson County, public health data said.

The test positivity — the number of COVID-19 tests returned positive — in each county is 4.7 percent in Clallam County for Nov. 22 through Dec. 6 and 2.31 percent in Jefferson County for Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, according to public health data.

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Jefferson County Reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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