King County Health Officer: Getting vaccinated is still the best tool to fight delta

Aug 5, 2021, 1:23 PM | Updated: 5:22 pm
vaccinated, COVID...
The sign outside of The Showbox in Seattle reads "Vaccinate so we can congregate" in July 2021. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

Even as more people have been getting vaccinated against COVID-19, cases are rising again locally and across the country, primarily due to the rapidly spreading delta variant.

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“Like much of the country, we are experiencing a delta-driven surge in COVID-19, with cases continuing to rise steeply in King County,” Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a briefing Thursday.

King County currently lands in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “substantial” transmission category, and Duchin expects to be in the “high” category by the end of the month.

Most of the newest cases in King County, Duchin said, are among unvaccinated people, as are hospitalizations and deaths, though the county thankfully has a low death rate at this time. From late June to late July, Duchin reported that 88% of COVID hospitalizations were among those who are not fully vaccinated, 87% of deaths were among the unvaccinated, and 75% of all cases.

During that same time period, compared to vaccinated residents, Duchin said those who are not fully vaccinated are five times more likely to test positive for COVID, 11 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-related illnesses.

“Among the almost 1.5 million fully vaccinated King County residents, less than one tenth of one percent have had a positive test result for COVID-19 following vaccination,” he said, and that percentage is even lower for hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccinated.

“COVID-19 vaccines are continuing to provide high-level protection against hospitalization and death, but you need to get vaccinated for them to work,” he added.

As for the delta variant, more and more sequenced cases are coming up as delta in King County. The current rise in hospitalizations, Duchin explained, is largely due to a combination the more contagious variant, a large number of unvaccinated people, and an abandonment of prevention measures.

That said, Duchin did point out that the large percentage of vaccinated people in the county, particularly among older adults, is providing a “strong defense.”

“Thanks largely to COVID-19 vaccines, the hospitalization rate in King County, although rising and concerning, is currently the fourth lowest rate when compared to all U.S. states. We have the second lowest current death rate compared to other states,” he said. “But we do have enough unvaccinated people to sustain a delta surge that will cause serious, preventable infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

At this time, Duchin says if you’re exposed to COVID-19 in King County, you’re likely exposed to the delta variant, which he called “significantly nastier” than previous variants. For that reason, vaccines and other layers of protection are still necessary, especially for anyone at a high risk of serious illness or for those who remain unvaccinated.

“The bottom line: Vaccines offer excellent protection against hospitalization and death from delta, but if you aren’t vaccinated, you’re more likely to be infected, hospitalized, or die from COVID-19,” he said.

State sounds alarm over latest rise in COVID cases with hospitals strained to their limit

Duchin also reminded people of the local directive recommending that everyone — regardless of vaccine status — wear masks indoors, in public to help protect immunocompromised people and children, and as a reliable way to make sure we’re all safer in settings where we can’t verify vaccination status.

“In addition to getting vaccinated, this is a good time to remember the other strategies to reduce the risk of COVID-19,” Duchin noted.

As for breakthrough cases, Duchin reassured people that these cases do not mean vaccine failure.

“As more people are vaccinated, we hear about more COVID infections among vaccinated people and that is normal and that is expected because no vaccines are 100% protective,” he said. “We should expect to hear about more non-severe breakthrough cases as more people are vaccinated.”

“COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide excellent protection from what is most important: serious infections, hospitalizations, and deaths,” he reiterated.

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King County Health Officer: Getting vaccinated is still the best tool to fight delta