Vaccine hopes raised on Olympic Peninsula

Health officers see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

Washington state could receive the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week.

Meanwhile, Clallam County confirmed nine new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and Jefferson County confirmed one new case.

A federal advisory committee approved a recommendation to the Food and Drug Administration to grant authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday afternoon. The FDA’s final decision is expected shortly and, once approved, shipment would be immediate, it was reported.

“This is an extremely important development,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County public health officer. “The vaccine is what will allow us to finally bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.

“It’s going to take months and months, but this is sort of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Locke added.

The committee of 23 experts which gave its approval — 17-4 with one abstention — to the Pfizer and German partner BioNtechs’ COVID-19 vaccine being used for those 16 and older heralds eventual approval, say many, including Locke.

If the vaccine is authorized, Jefferson and Clallam counties will each receive one unit — 975 doses — of the Pfizer vaccine in the first shipment, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

North Olympic Peninsula health officers and public health departments are preparing for the eventual vaccine, as it will be logistically challenging in the first few months to distribute.

It must be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit and has to be used within 20 days. Once out of the ultra-cold storage, it must be used within 24 hours, Locke said.

“This is unlike any vaccine that we’ve ever dealt with,” he said.

The committee will meet again on Dec. 17 to consider recommending approval of Moderna’s vaccine, according to the FDA’s website.

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 can be completed within 24 hours of the authorization, Locke said.

“I think we’re very fortunate that the top five vaccines that are in clinical trials all appear to be effective vaccines,” he said.

“The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are especially effective, and so that’s really welcome news.”

While it is expected that the first doses will be used for health care workers, since the first shipment won’t cover all medical workers, sub-tiers are expected to be announced by the state, Unthank said.

“The tiers are written by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and then evaluated by the Washington State Department of Health, and then applied to our jurisdiction,” she said.

“They are based on the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and then (on) your risks of dangerous complications if you get COVID-19.”

It will be a major advance for the health care system when a vaccine becomes available, she added.

“I think it’ll be an amazing step to get the vaccine approved and get it distributed,” Unthank said. “I think we all have to acknowledge that our health care workers have been carrying all of us through this.

“I think getting them vaccinated and properly protected will be one of the important steps that we can take in both acknowledging the sacrifices that they have made so far and really moving towards getting this virus under control.”

New cases

The new case in Jefferson County was still under investigation Thursday, Locke said.

The new cases in Clallam County stemmed from Thanksgiving gatherings and workplace outbreaks, Unthank said.

Due to workplace outbreak investigations, the targeted testing of exposures increased the test positivity — the percentage of tests returned positive — to 6.2 percent in Clallam County for Nov. 23 through Dec. 7, she said.

Clallam County’s case rate also rose to 200 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County’s case rate was about 110 per 100,000 for the two week prior as of Monday, according to county public health data.

Jefferson County’s test positivity is 2.31 percent from Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, according to public health data.

So far this month, Jefferson County has confirmed 21 cases of COVID-19, about 11 percent of the 191 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Clallam County has confirmed 94 cases this month, about 15.6 percent of the 610 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

There are currently 85 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County and 22 active cases in Jefferson County, public health data said.

There are no known Peninsula residents currently hospitalized for COVID-19.

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

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