A shortage of coronavirus vaccines in King County is slowing efforts to reach herd immunity, which would greatly slow the spread of COVID-19. But health officials received good news on Friday about the availability of the new one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which may help to more quickly vaccinate the more than 100,000 elders awaiting doses.
The county thought it might have to wait at least three weeks to access the J&J vaccine. Instead, it may receive doses sooner. Health officials awaiting confirmation from the state Department of Health (DOH) should have more information early next week, Public Health — Seattle & King County spokesperson James Apa said Friday.
During a virtual town hall livestreamed on the King County Public Health Facebook page on Wednesday, health director Patty Hayes discussed the local implications of governmental efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, including Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement that school employees and child care workers will be prioritized for vaccinations.
Currently, no vaccine has been approved for people under the age of 16.
As of March 1, 341,532 King County residents have received at least one dose, and 198,503 people are fully vaccinated, according to Public Health. Only 51.2% of those 75 years and older in the West Seattle, South Seattle, Delridge and Highline neighborhoods have received at least one dose, making them among the least likely to be vaccinated in King County.
Black and Latino residents in King County ages 65 and older are the least likely in their age group to be vaccinated, with 34.6% of Black elders and 45.4% Latinos receiving one dose. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 65 and older are the most likely to receive a dose at 64.7%, followed by 59.2% of Native Americans. For Asian Americans, 48.1% of those 65 and older have received one dose, while 50.3% of white people have, the health department said.
Black residents were also the least likely population to receive at least one dose in the 75 and older age group. Black, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islanders have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and have the highest levels of hospitalizations and comorbidity.
The vaccine shortage has greatly impacted the state, and Hayes said she does not expect a drastic increase in doses in King County until April.
“This is part of the challenge with adding the school employees and child care,” said Hayes. “We still have 116,000 folks 65 and older in the county in the 1B-1 category to be vaccinated.”
Public Health is using the data to drive partnerships with community-based organizations and churches to provide outreach and education in order to reach those the most vulnerable to the disease.
King County uses mobile teams that visit Adult Family Homes to administer the vaccine, and Public Health hired community navigators who help translate for people in their community and provide outreach and education.
Currently, there are up to 391 providers throughout King County that have registered to administer vaccinations with the state DOH, yet only 24 of those clinics received doses last week.
In response to a viewer question about people skipping the line when they aren’t in the eligible phase, Hayes said the state is operating on a trust-based system. While about 10% of King County residents are vaccinated elsewhere, the county is also vaccinating y people from outside of the county. “I’m hoping that it’s kind of a wash with the in-and-out, but it’s hard to track that,” Hayes said.
Major providers in King County have agreed to Public Health’s equity principles, meaning that they won’t allow ineligible people to receive doses. Yet there’s no way to prevent deceit. For instance, the state will not require teachers to show ID proving that they work in a school.
“I think that this is going to be less of a problem as we get more vaccine out there, and as the governor opens it up a little wider. It’s very frustrating to people right now because there’s so few doses,” Hayes said.