When the first highly effective COVID-19 vaccines arrived locally in mid-December, it was a remarkable sign of hope. In King County at the time, 240 people were being hospitalized for COVID-19 each week and sadly, ten people were dying every day from the virus. But today, six months later, the picture is much brighter as we’ve reached a remarkable milestone: 70% of King County residents age 16 and older have completed their vaccine series, leading to a large decline in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Here are a few key things to know about this 70% milestone:
- COVID-19 cases are at the lowest level since September of 2020. However, the virus continues to take the lives of two people every day in King County and continues to have disproportionate impacts among Latinx, Black, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities compared to White residents.
- The largest decreases in COVID-19 are occurring among age groups with the highest vaccine coverage. Older adults (ages 65 years and older) have experienced a dramatic 90% drop in hospitalizations since the peak in cases in December 2020. Age groups with less vaccination coverage experienced a fourth wave of cases and hospitalizations in the spring, while older age groups did not experience this fourth wave.
- People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of Pfizer/Moderna or two weeks after a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It takes these two weeks for the immune system to fully respond to the vaccine. That means King County will reach 70% fully vaccinated on June 29 and the current King County mask directive will end.
“Our vaccines are extremely effective protection against getting sick, being hospitalized and death from COVID-19. Ninety-seven percent of recent COVID-19 cases have occurred among people who are not fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
“This level of vaccination is a tremendous achievement and protects both vaccinated individuals and our community. At the same time, we still have areas of the county, particularly in south and southeast King County, and among Black and African Americans, where because of lower vaccination rates, cases and hospitalizations are not dropping to the same extent, and where continued precautions as well as efforts to increase vaccinations will be critical to prevent further disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Achieving 70%: How we got here
The high vaccination rate achieved in King County is a testament to the hard work of our community.
The milestone was achieved through a strategy that focuses first and foremost on the hardest hit areas of our region, using a variety of approaches to meet people where they are. Early on, King County launched high-volume vaccination sites in every major area of our region for quick and easy access. These sites delivered thousands of doses per week, providing access for all residents regardless of insurance coverage or immigration status and complementing the vaccine reach of health care providers, community health clinics and pharmacies.
Public Health and partners have been organizing community-focused events across the region at faith-based and community and civic organizations which continue to be important access points for people including those with disabilities, low-income families, immigrants, and high-risk critical workers. There are also traveling pop-up clinics that bring vaccine to where people gather, whether that is the park, beach, high schools, or places of employment. At the same time, Public Health and partners developed strategies to address the needs of populations with mobility challenges, including mobile vaccine delivery to people who are homebound and people living homeless.
“Reaching our current level of vaccination coverage is a remarkable accomplishment thanks to the efforts of such a strong health provider community, businesses, and community organizations that have all stepped-up to make vaccination as accessible as possible. Our community is committed to protecting one another and that is resulting in King County becoming a national leader in vaccination rates,” said Dennis Worsham, Interim Director for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Our work is not over. Public Health is committed to continuing to adapt our strategies and work with community partners to close the gap in vaccine rates by race and zip code so that no one is left behind.”
Vaccination coverage across our region
Vaccination rates vary by community, age, and race/ethnicity. Public Health is working to ensure as many people are protected as possible with the goal of at least 70% fully vaccinated across all racial/ethnic groups, eligible ages, and geographies.
Communities with lower vaccination rates are often the same communities that have experienced much higher rates of COVID-19. For example, in south and southeast King County, 62% of residents 16 and older have completed their vaccination series. This region has seen about two to four times the rate of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days compared to the county as a whole. We also see differences in vaccination rates by race/ethnicity. Black/African American and Latinx residents have the lowest vaccination rates among racial/ethnic groups in King County, with about 52% having completed their vaccination series compared to 66% for Whites, 74% for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, 76% for American Indian/Alaskan Natives and 79% for Asian Americans.
Closing gaps in vaccination
There are numerous reasons that people may not be vaccinated. Despite the vaccine’s high level of effectiveness and safety, some people may have concerns about vaccine safety. Intentional misinformation may perpetuate these concerns. To address this, Public Health is connecting with community groups and providing information about the vaccine in multiple venues and in multiple languages.
It may also be challenging for people to get time off work and some may be concerned about missing work if they experience side effects. Public Health is encouraging employers to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and recover from vaccination.
Several employers across King County are bringing vaccine education and access to their workplaces. For example, six casinos that experienced outbreaks during the pandemic partnered with Public Health to hold vaccination events at casinos for employees and their families. At Alki Bakery in West Seattle, Public Health hosted an information session for employees in English and Spanish and then facilitated on-site vaccination where all employees chose to get vaccinated.
Barriers such as childcare and transportation can also make it challenging for some working people, parents and caregivers to get vaccinated. To address this, no appointment is needed at many vaccination sites and several sites include weekend hours. Information about free rides to vaccination appointments and free childcare during vaccination appointments and recuperation is available on Public Health’s Getting Vaccinated webpage.
Another barrier is an understandable mistrust of health care systems and government after continuous discrimination, racism, and harmful experiences towards communities of color. It’s important to acknowledge both the history and continued experience of systemic racism, provide ongoing and open communication about vaccine safety, and work to make vaccine as accessible as possible.
Progress will be slower now that the majority of people are already vaccinated and those remaining are ambivalent or hesitant. Public Health will continue to work with partners to build trust and confidence and remove barriers to getting vaccinated. We continue to depend on one another for community protection, and to help protect those who cannot be vaccinated. The more people who are vaccinated, the less COVID-19 will circulate and the safer we all will be.
Originally posted June 15, 2021