Peninsula health officials support western states vaccine panel

Local health officials support Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to join with other western states in forming a work group of experts to further evaluate a COVID-19 vaccine once it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The work group was started by California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, and now has been joined by Washington, Oregon and Nevada to form a panel of nationally recognized scientists in immunization and public health to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the potential vaccine.

“The FDA has made public information about the data required for authorizing a vaccine. That, combined with two independent federal groups — and our own western states review process — should give the public pretty high confidence on the safety and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Inslee during a press conference Tuesday morning.

“When a safe vaccine is available, Washington state is going to be ready to distribute it in a way that is equitable, efficient and most importantly, safe.”

Both Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke and Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank agree with Inslee’s decision, saying it will help increase public confidence that has been damaged due to the politization of the ideas about vaccine development.

“I certainly welcome this,” Locke said. “Given how the issue of vaccine approval and especially this sort of warp-speed version of vaccine approval, the way that’s played out has unfortunately diminished public confidence in the safety of a vaccine once it becomes available.

“So, I think it’s going to be very important to do whatever we can to assure people based on solid evidence … Even the industry, even the vaccine manufacturers, are strongly in favor of this.”

Unthank said: “I think it’s a good idea.

“Unfortunately, the vaccine development process has become so politicized that we in the public health community believe it’s important to add another layer of safety and scrutiny to make sure that any vaccine that we roll out to this many people is 100 percent safe and effective,” she said.

Both health officers have previously said that a vaccine is not expected to be approved in the U.S. until late 2020 or early 2021, and even once approved, it will be limited as to who will be first to receive it.

No new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday, as Clallam County dropped back into the state’s low-risk category.

Clallam County’s new case rate is 24 new cases per 100,000 residents for the last two weeks, while Jefferson County’s case rate remained at about 22 cases per 100,000 for the same time period.

Clallam County has confirmed 279 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 16 active cases, two patients currently hospitalized and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 87 cases of COVID-19 since March, with four active cases and no deaths, said Locke.

Jefferson County currently has 21 close contacts in quarantine, while Clallam County has 60 close contacts in quarantine, said Locke and Unthank.

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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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