LOCAL NEWS

WA Sec of Health: COVID will be here a ‘long time’ without enough immunity

May 27, 2021, 3:17 PM
COVID...
People waiting in line inside Lumen Field's mass vaccination site. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

With 60% of Washingtonians 16 and older now having had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and about half of the state’s adults being fully-vaccinated, can we start envisioning a COVID-free future?

That depends.

While the goal is to get 70% of those 16 and up vaccinated, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah says he doesn’t know what the magic number will be for herd immunity.

“We do not know what a percentage will truly be that’s going to allow us to once and for all get through this pandemic and push COVID completely into the ground, and be done with it, and put our victory flag up and say, ‘We beat this virus,'” Shah said during the Washington State Department of Health’s weekly briefing on Wednesday.

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Shah is confident, however, that whether or not COVID-19 is here to stay hinges on whether or not people continue to get vaccinated.

“The truth is, if that does not happen, … unfortunately we’re going to be with COVID-19 for a long time coming,” he said. “Now the question is, how severe will it be? Or will it just be that we’ll have clusters and outbreaks every so often in certain settings that will be something that we’ll have to be dealing with?”

State epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said that unlike the flu, COVID-19 will likely not come back seasonally, but rather always be present.

“Flu tends to be seasonal every year, and COVID has been with us over a year, so it’s not acting like a seasonal respiratory virus,” he said.

Shah worries we could see a disparity where some more privileged zip codes with higher vaccination rates would be more immune to COVID-19, while other under-served communities with lower vaccination numbers would still deal with periodic outbreaks.

A look at King County’s vaccination map shows vast differences in vaccine numbers depending on what area of the county you’re in. And across the state, counties range from 70% of people having had one dose in San Juan County, to just 23% of people in Eastern Washington’s Stevens County.

“We do want to make sure that this is not a tale of two societies, where we have people who are vaccinated and protected going about their business, and those who are not vaccinated, not protected, and unfortunately getting sick,” Shah said.

The key is to keep moving forward with vaccination, Shah said, noting that he and his colleagues are focusing on bringing the vaccine to those under-privileged communities through strategies such as mobile clinics and pop-up clinics.

While the state inches closer every day to that goal of 70% vaccination, Shah said the last 10% will prove the toughest, as vaccine hesitancy has slowed demand.

“This road ahead of us — the last mile, if you will — is incredibly difficult, and it’s also going to require a change and augmentation of our effort,” he said. “What we have done previously and what we are doing now means that we have to do everything we can to work together in order to be able to vaccinate.”

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WA Sec of Health: COVID will be here a ‘long time’ without enough immunity