County has received just 5,900 vaccine doses so far

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As county and statewide vaccinations continue into the new year, Good Samaritan Society – Stafholt is expected to start administering doses of the first round of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday, January 19.

Tatiana Koreski, a nurse at Staholt, said 90 percent of the nursing home’s residents plan to be vaccinated, close to 80 residents and staff.

“It’s a great step forward to giving us a fighting chance,” she said. “Living through the outbreak last April, we’ve seen firsthand what it does to a person.”

Last spring, the nursing home had at least 17 residents and seven staff test positive for the virus.

The second dose, which needs to be given at least 21 days after the first dose to be effective, will be administered Tuesday, February 9. A third clinic is scheduled for March to accommodate people unable to attend the first one in January, Koreski said.

Lummi Nation began administering the Pfizer vaccine to its elders, and planned to distribute the 100 remaining doses from its first shipment on January 6, physician Dr. Dakotah Lane said in a January 5 video announcement on the Lummi Communications Facebook page. Those 65-years-old and older can receive the vaccine on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Lummi Tribal Health Center, he said.

The tribe is also administering the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine to its members who are interested in volunteering for the vaccine trial.

“We helped bring this vaccine trial here because we believe there is some benefit. We believe the benefit outweighs the risk,” Lane said. “I think this past Christmas and New Year’s has shown us what that risk is. People who get the coronavirus may die.”

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said 69,349 people in Washington had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine during the week of December 31. The department expected to order the vaccines for the second round of Pfizer shots during the January 2-3 weekend. The first Pfizer vaccine shipments arrived in Washington on December 14.

Washington state can expect 150,000 to 350,000 doses in the first month of vaccine distribution, and 500,000 to 1 million doses in the second month, according to DOH-published figures.

On December 30, the department also updated its Phase 1A guidance, determining who is prioritized to receive the first rounds of the vaccine. DOH made the update so communities that had already completed vaccinating all of its high-risk workers could continue vaccinating other healthcare workers, the press release noted. 

Those in the first tier to be vaccinated are high-risk healthcare workers, first responders and residents and staff of nursing homes or similar facilities where those over 65-years-old are receiving care, according to the vaccine allocation guidance. 

“Across Washington, it is important that health care systems actively reach out to and provide access to COVID-19 vaccination for the community-based healthcare workforce outside their systems and in their community,” the press release read. “This includes other health care providers, school nurses, and behavioral health providers, in order to complete this phase and ensure we have a protected healthcare system.” 

Guidance for the next two groups to be vaccinated will be finalized “shortly after the new year,” according to the release.

State and county health officials continue to urge people to maintain social distancing measures, wear masks, wash hands frequently, avoid nonessential travel and follow all other pandemic guidelines while vaccines are administered. 

As of January 4, Whatcom County has had 3,736 confirmed Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 55 deaths, according to DOH data. In the past two weeks, there have been 363 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Whatcom County.

In total, 205 people have been hospitalized from the virus in the county. Lynden school district had the highest rate of new cases in the past two weeks, with 390 per 100,000 people. Blaine school district had a rate of 108 cases per 100,000 during that time. In a media briefing held Wednesday, January 6, Whatcom County Health Department director Erika Lautenbach said county cases are still primarily due to small gatherings and says the department is waiting to see how many cases will result from the recent holidays. She said the department has been receiving numerous calls from individuals asking how to get vaccinated and asked that people first check with their employers or health provider. “The health department has no role in determining who qualifies for the vaccinations,” she said.

Lautenbach said that the health department had been in discussions with Point Roberts fire chief Christopher Carleton about vaccination plans for Point Roberts but did not elaborate on the talks. Carleton had written Lautenbach on December 14 inquiring about the department’s plans for Point Roberts and suggesting that a “batch vaccination” process would be most suited for the Point. “A so called ‘batch’ vaccination on a weekend would likely work best for my community versus a priority list approach – again due to limiting the trips necessary through Canada and the ability to administer within the timeframe needed for storage requirements. This would also lend to a foundation of better observance and tracking,” Carleton wrote.

On December 28, Carleton followed up with an email to a wide assortment of county, state and federal officials and again suggested that a batch vaccination clinic would be the best method to employ on the Point.

The Point Roberts hospital district and SuperTrack clinic are also involved in the community vaccination effort. According to district superintendent Barbara Wayland, “Our clinic providers are actively working with the Washington health department for the Covid-19 vaccine to be administered here in Point Roberts. As soon as we have information as to when and how the vaccine will be available to the people of Point Roberts, we will post notices to the community.”

To date, according to the health department’s Amy Hockenberry, the county has received just 5,900 vaccine doses. Vaccines are being administered to people who fall into the Phase 1, tier A category which includes residents of nursing homes, and healthcare workers at high risk through contact with Covid-19 patients and paramedics and EMTS. There are about 24,000 people in the county in that group, not including nursing home residents.

Phase 1B will include all other healthcare workers, police, firefighters and teachers. Hockenberry says the department expects to be in Phase 1A for about two weeks.

Washington has had 248,580 total confirmed cases of Covid-19. In the state, 3,541 people have died from the virus. 

There have been 20,732,404 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic and 352,464 deaths, according to January 5 CDC data.

More information is available on the Washington State Department of Health’s Covid-19 dashboard at bit.ly/3r2URJj.

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