More than 11,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the county as officials continue to prepare a vaccination distribution system for the general public.
Snohomish County healthcare organizations are in the process of distributing vaccines to healthcare workers and first responders most at risk of dealing with COVID patients.
There are roughly 40,000 people in the county currently eligible for the vaccine and the county has received about that number of vaccines in total.
Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters, during a Jan. 5 press briefing, said another 8,000 vaccines are scheduled to be distributed the week of Jan. 4.
The process is slow at the moment but Spitters expects it to speed up eventually.
“Our capacity to put the vaccine into people’s arms will increase in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Many healthcare systems have had to take on the responsibility quickly and without the usual amount of preparation.
“In a non-emergency setting this whole thing would be a year of planning,” he said.
“We urge your patience and cooperation with this process that we aim to complete in six months,” said Spitters.
Updates about the vaccine planning are available at snohd.org/COVIDvaccine.
Washington state is working on a website to help inform people of when they can get vaccinated as well.
“The state is developing a web portal where individuals will be able to enter their age, occupation and risk factors and be assigned to a phase, and sign up for an email or phone reminder of when their time comes,” said Spitters.
The next vaccination phase will be targeting a larger group of people, including elderly people who are most at-risk of hospitalization and/or death and essential workers including police, firefighters who were not vaccinated as EMTs, food production and distribution staff, and teachers and school staff.
“Yes, that will be a lot more people,” said Spitters. “We need not just the vaccine but the capacity to administer that."
There are 40 approved providers currently in the county with about 50 organizations with pending applications.
“It’s just a fact that we’re going to have to complement that with high-throughput dedicated vaccination services to get this done in a reasonable amount of time,” said Spitters.
The U.S. Congress extended the use of relief funds from just 2020 into 2021, which will give the county some funds to work with for that.
“We were not given any additional funds to run vaccination sites from the federal government,” said County Executive Dave Somers.
The County Council approved a plan to spend the remaining $13.2 million on Jan. 4.
“This money that we still have remaining will allow us to keep our activities going through March,” said Somers.
Those activities include the Department of Emergency Management’s work on preparing vaccine distribution, support for food networks and childcare for essential workers.
The county will also be able to maintain a supply of safety equipment because of those funds.
“We believe continuing to operate our PPE warehouse will be necessary in 2021,” said Somers.
Some of the most important work will be vaccine outreach.
“It’s critical that we work closely with our partners to make the vaccine available to our 814,000 residents, especially our historically marginalized communities,” said Somers.
One million dollars of those funds was dedicated to economic development activities and $200,000 was provided to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office for a body scanner for jail staff.
Another $3 million has been set aside for the Snohomish Health District. Somers expects that to last about three months for the organization.
“They have been providing critical services, either independently or in coordination with the county,” he said.
Those services include contact tracing, outreach investigations, case investigation and vaccination implementation planning.
As vaccine plans continue, the county’s case rate had a mild increase after two weeks of decreasing.
“It took a slight jump up and we’ll just have to see where that goes. It may be a result of the holidays or it may be a result of factors other than disease transmission,” said Spitters.
The holiday season may have caused more people to test or interact with the healthcare system in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean more transmission is happening, he said.
The county also surpassed 400 deaths and long-term care facilities are “still in a dire situation,” said Spitters.
Sixty-two of those facilities are seeing an outbreak, including 14 nursing facilities and 28 adult family homes.
“This also causes a strain in our hospital system, both in generating new cases for the hospital and long-term care facilities ability to accept discharges from the hospital,” he said.
Vaccination will likely not have an impact for a while, said Spitters. Although the exact number is debated, about 70 to 80 percent of the population will likely need to be vaccinated before herd immunity starts, said Spitters.
“It’s probably a few months until we start to see the benefits of a vaccine at the population level,” he said. “Right now we’re real reliant on everybody to continue to do the things we’ve been asking since the start of the pandemic."