by Carolyn Bick
Though roughly 62,000 first doses of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 will be available starting next week, it will only be available for highest risk healthcare workers, Department of Health officials said in a press briefing on Dec. 9. And even though health officials expect the state to get a total of 400,000 combined doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine — if Moderna’s vaccine gets emergency authorization approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration — this number only represents the first dose of the vaccine, which requires two doses to be effective.
The state projects that the first round of doses will be administered by mid-January, Department of Health (DOH) Acting Assistant Secretary Michele Roberts said. She said that this includes highest risk healthcare workers and first responders, as well as long-term care facility residents and staff. She said that these first doses will be matched with the same number of second doses for these same people.
However, Roberts said in response to a question from the Emerald, Washingtonians shouldn’t expect that everyone will be vaccinated until midway through 2021, and stressed the need for people to continue to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks.
But it is clear from the numbers that not enough people are doing this.
During the press conference, DOH Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy shared charts reflecting case counts that appear to be spiralling out of control. Even though there appears to be a “dip” in case counts around the holiday week, she said, this doesn’t reflect an actual decrease in cases. Instead, she said, it is more likely that this decrease has to do with fewer people wanting to go out and get tested over a holiday weekend, combined with the possibility that fewer testing locations are open, anyway. The Emerald has included an image of the state’s epidemiological curve chart below.
Even if this dip were real, it does not appear that the state is in any way in good shape. The current trend in cases dwarfs that of the original outbreak in the spring and the summer resurgence. Deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise, hospitals continue to see a rise in hospital bed occupancy, and ICU bed occupancy is at an all-time high. The Emerald has included below screenshots of a graph that Lofy shared during the press conference and of DOH charts regarding the state’s hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
As she has mentioned in other press conferences, Lofy said that the continuing rise in hospital bed occupancy across the state is concerning. A rise statewide means that there is nowhere for people to go, if one region becomes overwhelmed. She also noted that hospitals continue to cancel non-emergent surgeries in order to make room for COVID-19 patients.
In response to a Seattle Times reporter’s question later in the press conference, Roberts said that there is no set plan for the second round of vaccine recipients. She referred to the state’s tentative vaccination plan and said that the state expects unhoused individuals to fall into one of the second round of groups offered the vaccine but also noted that the state is awaiting guidance from the federal government with regard to how to proceed. Those recommendations have not yet been made.
Featured image is a screenshot of statewide COVID-19 data from the state Department of Health’s tracking dashboard.