Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in Skagit County has trailed off in the weeks since eligibility expanded, forcing health leaders to consider ways to reach those not motivated to get vaccinated.
County spokesperson Laura Han said providers were expecting to see a drop in demand after the most eager residents received their shots, but not to this degree.
In total, about 50% of eligible county residents have initiated vaccination, and 34% are fully vaccinated.
Up until last week, the county was regularly going through its entire weekly allocation of vaccine — about 1,200 doses. The week of April 26, though, appointments dropped by 40%, and continued to fall this week.
“We were a little caught off-guard with how steep the decline was,” Han said. “No one anticipated this level of drop-off.”
The group health leaders are needing to target now are not necessarily those who are resistant to getting or skeptical of the vaccine, but those who haven’t seen the vaccine as a priority.
Han said this group, primarily ages 16 to 34, would likely get the vaccine if it was available at their local grocery store or during a checkup with their primary care doctor.
“From what we’re hearing … it’s about ease of access,” she said.
County Health Officer Howard Leibrand said younger people may feel like the risk of getting COVID-19 isn’t so great, and they don’t prioritize getting vaccinated.
However “30% of people, even young people, end up with long COVID,” he said, referring to the phenomenon in which people continue to show symptoms weeks or months after recovering. “This is not a trivial problem.”
Aaron Syring, pharmacist and owner of Island Drug and La Conner Drug, said his staff have observed a similar decrease in interest.
The chain has been one of the higher-volume vaccine providers in the area.
For instance, in the week after eligibility was expanded to include those 16 and older, he said his team gave about 1,300 shots per day. The next week, it was about 300 a day.
This week, Syring’s staff began offering free mobile vaccination clinics to businesses anywhere in the Puget Sound area in an attempt to make getting the vaccine as easy as possible.
“We’ve got a good amount of vaccine, and staff willing to do it,” he said.
Hopefully, bringing doses directly to the workplace will help make the process as convenient as possible, he said.
Workplaces can request a clinic at islanddrug.com/workplace-covid-19-vaccines.
The pharmacy chain has also simplified its online scheduling, he said.
Han said county Public Health staff are working on strategies to make vaccination more accessible, and expects to have more details next week.
The mass vaccination clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds dominates most of the department’s time now.
Staff have run a number of mobile clinics, and Han said it’s likely they will become a greater focus soon.
Dr. Connie Davis, chief medical officer with Skagit Regional Health, said her team has reported a drop in interest at its clinics.
“Up until last week, things were going full-speed ahead,” she said.
But now the provider is seeing a 10% no-show rate for its appointments, and a drop in those showing up to receive their second doses.
She said Skagit Regional leadership has discussed bringing doses to primary care appointments, but this comes with difficulties because the vaccine is delivered in multidose vials.
She said her staff has been so focused on not wasting doses that perhaps they haven’t moved as fast as they could have in this area.
Staff have also worked on outreach, trying to work with churches and the Mixtec Indigenous community to run group vaccinations.
Davis has been working closely with county Public Health to plan for the future, and she said she would gladly cooperate on both outreach and mobile clinics.
Information on vaccine providers is available at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.
— Reporter Brandon Stone: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH