by Carolyn Bick
Though Washington State appears to be on track to eventually meet its goal of a 70% vaccination rate among people aged 16 and older, it does not appear that it will meet this goal before the planned state reopening date of June 30. The state is also experiencing an increase in the P.1 virus variant, rather than the recently identified Delta variant about which many other states are expressing concern.
As of this writing, the state sits at an exactly 68% vaccination rate among people aged 16 and older, State Department of Health (DOH) Sec. of Health Dr. Umair Shah said in a June 23 briefing. On June 9, the rate was 66.4%, so the state’s current rate represents just a 1.6% increase in vaccinations among people ages 16 and up.
This modest bump may have something to do with the fact that the anticipated increase from Washington’s vaccinated veteran and active military service member population was less than anticipated. The DOH’s deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, Lacy Fehrenbach, said that the United States Department of Defense had given the DOH a vaccination report that had “discrepancies” due to “a change in the methods they used to generate a report for us and share that information on people vaccinated in Washington State.
“This meant that the overall numbers the Department of Defense had reported to the DOH have decreased, and, in turn, the production affects our overall statewide numbers,” Fehrenbach explained, referring to the modest growth in vaccination rates statewide, despite the recent inclusion of data regarding Washington’s vaccinated veterans and active duty military service members.
But even as vaccination rates crawl towards 70%, one of the many coronavirus variants, P.1, is gaining traction. This variant, also known as the Gamma variant, was first discovered in Brazil and has the ability to effectively “dodge” antibodies. This means that even if someone has either been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus or has gotten sick and developed antibodies to fight off infection, there is a greater chance that the P.1 variant could make them sick. The former are also known as “breakthrough” cases.
DOH Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist said that while the B.1.1.7 variant currently remains the dominant variant in the state, he is most concerned about the P.1 variant. Unlike other states across the country that are concerned about the new Delta variant and its potential for higher death and hospitalization rates, Lindquist said that “we are just not seeing that here in Washington.
“We are seeing more breakthrough cases proportionally and hospitalizations with the [P.1] variant,” Lindquist said. “I think our future is to see B.1.1.7 — or Alpha variant — decrease continually. It’s less than half our variants at this point, and at one point was well over half our variants.”
Lindquist said that Washington is experiencing a climb in the aforementioned P.1 variant for unknown reasons. He mentioned that British Columbia, Canada — Washington’s northern neighbor — had experienced an outbreak of P.1 recently but did not link that outbreak to the increase in variant cases in the state.
Interested readers may find a just-released DOH report regarding COVID-19 virus genotyping and sequencing — determining a genetic “fingerprint” that identifies what variant is present — in Washington State here. This report is current as of today, June 23, 2021, and also contains recent, detailed data about the viral variants present in the state. Lindquist said that the State is currently genotyping 17% of all viral samples, which is a much higher rate than anywhere else in the United States.
Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.
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