COVID-19 vaccination rates in Washington have risen significantly in the last month, adding to hospital and health officials’ wary optimism about recent virus trends as winter approaches. Still, they warned Wednesday, hurdles remain.
State health officials saw a 25% increase in the number of people who have initiated the coronavirus vaccination process since mid-August, Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary of the state Department of Health, said during a Wednesday news conference.
Overall, more than 4.9 million Washingtonians have received at least one vaccine dose, more than 76% of the state’s eligible population. On average, nearly 15,000 people have been vaccinated per day over the past seven days, according to the state’s data dashboard.
“We’re closing the gap,” Roberts said. She added that the state is still waiting on information from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on shots for kids younger than 12 years old.
Hospitalizations and infections continue to decline statewide, a trend that’s remained fairly consistent since both peaked a few weeks ago, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of DOH’s COVID-19 response.
Despite encouraging trends, the pandemic rages on, Fehrenbach said.
“I want to be really clear that the disease remains very high in Washington state,” she said.
Hospital admission rates, while declining, remain much higher than last year’s winter surge, she said. The downward trend stretches across all age groups, except infection rates in those younger than 19, which are flattening.
“We hope they’ll turn downward in the future,” Fehrenbach said. “They’re not quite there yet.”
She added, “There are hopeful signs in our data, but we are still in a very, very tenuous situation statewide” especially when it comes to hospital and intensive-care unit occupancy.
The state is attempting to secure access to more COVID-19 treatments — specifically monoclonal antibodies — but nationwide demand is high.
“The demand is higher than the allocation for this kind of therapy,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said Wednesday.
Hospitals and other providers used to order the treatment directly from the manufacturer, whereas now the manufacturer is giving allocations to states through the federal government.
“We’ve had to relook at our plan, including how we’re allocating and where do we allocate appropriately, not just in communities and counties … but also looking at it from a standpoint of who would be eligible for monoclonal antibody therapy,” Shah said.
He added, “This is where we start to get to this point of having to make really difficult resource allocation decisions on constrained resources.”
Schools statewide also remain under close watch for virus outbreaks, especially since those between 12 and 17 years old have lower rates of vaccination, the panel of health and hospital officials said.
Children ages 12 to 15 are about 46% fully vaccinated, while those ages 16 and 17 are about 53% fully vaccinated, according to DOH’s data dashboard. In comparison, adults between 35 and 49 years old have a 69% vaccination rate. Those over 65 are about 82% fully vaccinated.
“Part of that is because it takes time to reach high vaccination rates, and our older adults were the first groups of people to be vaccinated,” Roberts said. “I think part of it is also parents think kids haven’t been as much at risk in the past, but … that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing increasing disease in our younger people. Because that is the susceptible population to disease.”
She added that parents do need to be the ones who make the decision to vaccinate their children, but said, “As a parent myself, the relief of knowing my daughter is protected from the most severe outcomes and can do some of the things that bring her joy and help fill her cup is really critical.”
Higher vaccination rates in schools also mean the buildings will be safer for all students and staff — and more likely to remain open, the panelists said.
“We want to encourage everybody to do everything we can to continue to keep our schools open for in-person learning,” Shah said.