At a press conference Thursday morning, Washington state health officials acknowledged the "still fairly high" daily coronavirus case counts statewide (nearly 314,000 confirmed cases and 4,759 deaths) but painted an optimistic portrait of the days ahead, albeit one complicated by winter storms that continue to slow vaccine deliveries and send Texas senators fleeing to Cancún. (Sorry, still cackling.)
• 90% of this week’s vaccine allocation will arrive late due to the snowstorms. Yesterday a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control said bad weather across the country would lead to "widespread delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries over the next few days," and they were not lying. WA DOH acting assistant secretary Michele Roberts said the department expects 200,000 doses to arrive late, adding that the Moderna vaccines hadn't yet shipped and the Pfizer vaccines "are limited." In response to delays, the state closed the mass vaccination site in Kennewick and started the process of rescheduling those who signed up for a jab in the Tri-Cities area over the weekend. Roberts said the DOH will launch "a push" to get all that vaccine distributed when it all finally arrives, and they "might open up lanes" at mass vaccination sites to achieve that end.
• In general, vaccine supply is still way low: Though Roberts celebrated the Biden administration's decision to increase supply to the states through the federal pharmacy program, she said the amount "doesn't come close" to meeting the need. This week providers requested over 440,000 doses from the federal government, but the state will only receive a little more than 200,000 doses. Roberts said appointments at mass vaccination sites for first doses "will be limited" while the state tries to administer more second doses. Though the state improved its vaccine administration rate from 29% in early January to 83% this week, Washington is still only vaccinating around 26,000 people per week, falling well short of its goal of vaccinating 45,000 people per week. Starting next week, however, Walmart, RiteAid, and Kroger will join Safeway, Albertsons, and Health Mart Independent Pharmacies in doling out the vaccines. DOH anticipates the expanding federal program to add a “big boost" to the state's efforts.
• Johnson & Johnson vaccine on the horizon: The Federal Drug Administration will review the application for emergency authorization of the J&J vaccine next Friday. DOH remains "hopeful" of approval, though it's hard to say how it'll go given the lack of public data. (Right now health officials are basically only working off a press release sent out by the manufacturer.) Assuming FDA, CDC, and then Western States Scientific Committee approval, WA health secretary Umair Shah said he's looking forward especially to guidance from those entities on how best to use the single-dose vaccine. Nevertheless, the officials said they're doing a lot of "planning behind the scenes" regarding J&J vaccine deployment.
• More on that planning: State epidemiologist for communicable diseases Dr. Scott Lindquist said the J&J vaccine might work especially well for agricultural workers, people in the fishing industry, and people in prisons. WA DOH director of community relations and equity Paj Nandi said the state needs to do more work to address concerns coming from the Black community regarding the efficacy of the vaccine and regarding Johnson & Johnson as a company. (Last year the company had to shell out $2 billion to women who claimed they got cancer from using its talc products. Internal documents revealed the company "pushed these products in the United States and beyond, specifically targeting Black and Brown women.") Though the J&J vaccine has a lower efficacy rate than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Nandi said the company's vaccine is "still highly efficacious in preventing hospitalizations and deaths." It's "66% protective against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection... but, importantly... 85% effective in protecting against severe disease," according to STAT News.
• Just a reminder that the UK variant is here, and it's partying, and we still have shit surveillance.
There are nine confirmed cases of the UK variant in @KingCountyWA as of Tuesday. Continue doing what's needed to protect against & slow the spread of #COVID19:
Wear a well-fitted mask, stay six feet apart, wash hands often, & minimize contact with others. https://t.co/2xqsO7EchL
— Public Health - Seattle & King County (@KCPubHealth) February 17, 2021
• When will it be your turn? The DOH has said they planned to move to the next tier (1B2) after vaccinating at least 50% of the currently eligible population, but that goalpost has basically dissolved. We're still well below vaccinating 50% of the group, demand is still way high, and the state is still focused on making sure that everyone who is currently eligible for the vaccine has access to it. We'll check back in "in a couple weeks."
• The vaccine rollout has been more equitable than initial analyses indicated. Last week the DOH finally released vaccine data broken down by race and ethnicity. At first glance, that data revealed "significant" equity issues in vaccine distribution, with Black people and Hispanics getting way fewer doses than you'd expect them to get based on population proportions. That race and ethnicity analysis, however, didn't factor in age. Since the proportion of Black people and Latino people who are eligible for the vaccine is much lower than their general population in the state, the equity gaps are much smaller than health officials initially thought, though they're still present. For instance, while Hispanics comprise 13.2% of the state's population, Hispanics over 65 only compose 3.6% of the population. So far, the state has vaccinated 2.5% of the Hispanic population. Similarly, health secretary Shah said, Black people account for 2.1% of the population over 65, and 1.2% of people over the age of 65 who have been given at least one dose of vaccine are Black. White people are still getting vaccinated at higher rates, though. To help close these gaps, Shah said the state is offering more phone-only scheduling and is continuing to invest in "trusted community leaders, messengers, and organizing" to get the word out.
• The state thinks we’re “down the backside of this third wave." State epidemiologist for communicable diseases Dr. Scott Lindquist used that phrase to describe the declining coronavirus case numbers. "It looks really, really promising. What we’ve done in Washington is clearly working. The new vaccine on board and our case counts coming down is putting us in a new era of this epidemic," he said. In order to keep these numbers low, of course, we must remain diligent about masking up and washing hands.
• Got questions for the state health officials about the vaccine phases? Then catch their webinar at 5 p.m. tonight. Live ASL and Spanish interpretation will be provided.