In early July, I wrote about some new data on the percentage of King County residents who expressed hesitancy to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Since then, unfortunately, the coronavirus situation has changed dramatically — and for the worse.
In just a matter of weeks, the highly contagious delta variant of the virus has overtaken the country. There’s been a surge in hospitalizations and deaths in areas where a higher percentage of the population hasn’t been vaccinated. In Washington and other places, mask mandates are going back in effect, even for those who are fully vaccinated. The end of the pandemic no longer seems just around the corner, as it did when the vaccine rollout began.
Needless to say, those of us who are vaccinated are increasingly frustrated with those who are not.
So it seemed to me, in light of this worsening situation, it would be good to revisit the survey data on vaccine hesitancy in King County, which is now updated for the July 23-29 period.
There is some good news. Since I wrote about this data one month ago, the rate of vaccine hesitancy has declined overall in King County. But given all that’s transpired with the delta variant in recent weeks, the decline in hesitancy may seem disappointingly modest.
In the new data, when asked if they would choose to get vaccinated if offered a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, 7.1% of county adults were either unsure or said they would flatly refuse the shot. That’s down a little from the end of June, when 7.3% were vaccine hesitant. (Of course, only those people who indicated that they hadn’t yet been vaccinated were able to answer this question in the survey).
The data is from a research project from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine and COVID Collaborative. It shows data on people’s openness to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine by county and ZIP code for the entire United States.
In 28 out of King County’s 84 ZIP codes, vaccine hesitancy had declined by at least one percentage point since one month earlier. The biggest declines were in some areas with high rates of hesitancy — Auburn’s 98002 and Federal Way’s 98003.
If people who previously expressed hesitancy decided to get vaccinated, that naturally helps lower the rate of hesitancy in an area. The rate can also decline if still-unvaccinated people who had expressed hesitancy in the past change their mind and respond to the survey that they would definitely take the vaccine.
But people can also change their minds in the opposite direction, and the hesitancy rate can rise. And in King County, there were 12 ZIP codes where hesitancy had actually increased by at least one percentage point.
The biggest jump was in the 98092 ZIP code, which runs east of Auburn out toward Black Diamond. In this ZIP, nearly 24% of residents expressed hesitancy toward, or were against, being vaccinated. That was the highest rate of hesitancy of any ZIP code in King County in the current data. The 98092 ZIP code is a more rural area of the county, and the data shows that there is a sharp divide between urban and rural places, with urban areas more likely to be vaccinated and rural ones more likely to be hesitant.
In the new data, the lowest rates of vaccine hesitancy are all in North Seattle. The 98107 ZIP code, which covers the southern half of the Ballard neighborhood, was the lowest, with just about 2% of the adult population expressing hesitancy toward vaccination. Two more North Seattle ZIP codes — 98117 and 98103 — were just a fraction higher.
Keep in mind that King County has one of the highest vaccination rates of any big U.S. county — and even the pockets of higher vaccine hesitancy here are still lower than many parts of the U.S. There are hundreds of ZIP codes nationally where the majority of residents are vaccine hesitant, including three in Eastern Washington. The state’s highest hesitancy rate is in the 99121 ZIP code, in Ferry County, where 68% expressed hesitancy. (The highest rate in the U.S. was 95%, in a ZIP code located in Hutchinson County, Texas.)
King County’s overall 7.1% rate of vaccine hesitancy in the most recent data was the lowest of any county in the state, ahead of Skagit (8.9%) and Jefferson (9.1%).
Elsewhere in Seattle’s metro area, the hesitancy rates are still in the double digits: Snohomish was at 12.2% and Pierce was at 15.4%.
The data used for this research project is based off surveys conducted online by Carnegie Mellon University through Facebook (about 50,000 people take the survey every day), and then fleshed out through statistical modeling.
The IHME data is intended to help health officials and other policymakers better target outreach efforts to these areas where there is higher reluctance. The project has been tracking vaccine hesitancy rates across the country since the first week of January. At that time, 32% in King County expressed reluctance when asked about the vaccine.