WA Sec. of Health: State hopes to avoid ‘tale of two societies’ for vaccinated, unvaccinated

May 26, 2021, 10:05 AM | Updated: 11:20 am

Despite COVID-19 vaccination rates in Washington continuing to trend upward, state health officials still have concerns over counties where rates remain low.

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As Washington’s Deputy Secretary for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach pointed out during a Wednesday briefing, the rate of eligible residents who have received at least one dose ranges widely from county to county. While more populous areas like King County report that more than 72% of eligible residents over 16 years old have gotten their first dose, more rural regions like Ferry County are down around 28%.

That’s leading to concerns from state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah that this trend could fuel discrepancies moving forward.

“We do not want to see a tale of two societies, where we have the vaccinated who are largely protected and able to go about their business, … and then you have the unvaccinated who are also going to try to go about their work and business and life, but they continue to be at risk for infection,” he said during Wednesday’s briefing. “That would be a terrible place to be, and I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated.”

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And while mass vaccination sites have distributed a combined 300,000 doses between Jan. 26 and May 23, the hope is to move on to a new stage in Washington’s vaccination efforts.

That new stage will see the state pivoting away from its four mass vaccination sites, and instead focusing on a less centralized strategy. In practice, that will see the state Department of Health launching a new program sometime within the next two weeks to bring vaccinations to rural, unserved regions in Washington.

“We have to really be thinking about the road ahead, and that means mobile outreach is critical,” Dr. Shah said. “We need to be getting into more rural communities, smaller jurisdictions, and then certainly work in BIPOC communities.”

In total, over 60% of eligible Washington residents age 16 and up have received at least one dose, while almost 51% have been fully vaccinated. Combined across all age and eligibility groups, over 40% of the state is now fully vaccinated.

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WA Sec. of Health: State hopes to avoid ‘tale of two societies’ for vaccinated, unvaccinated