Skagit County’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has slowed to a crawl in recent weeks because of a decline in demand.
About 67.4% of eligible county residents 12 and older have been given at least one dose of a vaccine, and 61.1% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, only about 0.1% more residents are given a dose every day, representing a significant slowdown from the early days of the vaccine rollout.
This matches a trend seen state and nationwide, said Polly Dubbel, communicable disease manager with Skagit County Public Health. Those most eager to get vaccinated have long since completed the series, leaving those who haven’t made it a priority or do not want the vaccine still unvaccinated.
In spring, the county would regularly see 2 to 3% jumps in those vaccinated each week, she said. Weekly increases now look more like 0.5%.
Public Health staff knew this slowdown would come but believed the vaccinators could make more progress, Dubbel said.
“I was hoping we’d get 5 to 10% further before we stagnated this much,” she said.
On a good week, the county now sees 300 to 400 people starting the vaccination process, with most of those doses coming from private pharmacies or primary care clinics, Dubbel said. Public mass vaccination clinics, which once gave hundreds of doses a day, shut down months ago due to lack of demand.
Mobile clinics, which Public Health has focused on since closing its mass vaccination site, can target sections of the population. Staff members are bringing doses to underserved areas, and are offering education and incentives.
These clinics generally give five to 15 doses, with participants saying they had been waiting for a convenient time or place to get the vaccine, Dubbel said.
County staff began offering $25 cash cards at pop-up clinics last week, though Dubbel said it’s too early to tell whether the incentive will make a difference. These cards are paid for by the North Sound Accountable Community of Health.
Skagit Regional Health, which had been providing up to 4,000 doses a week at its mass vaccination clinic, has also seen a sharp drop in demand and hasn’t needed to place an order for more doses in about a month.
According to Skagit Regional Chief Physician Officer Dr. Mary Ann Hink, the focus now is on offering the vaccine to those coming in for primary care appointments. Soon, providers also will offer the vaccine to patients as they’re discharged from inpatient stays at the hospital or emergency department.
While progress is slow, those who require convenience will eventually get their vaccine, Hink said. What comes next is less certain.
Some in the county have told Public Health they are waiting for full federal approval of the vaccines and may seek out a dose once this happens. Education and assurances from their primary care doctors have shown to be effective in these cases.
Misinformation about the vaccines remains rampant, however, particularly on social media.
County Commissioner Peter Browning, who has a long history working in public health, said tackling misinformation is crucial to reaching doubters, but that small local health departments likely don’t have the resources to make a big dent.
“We do have an obligation ... to root out bad information,” he said. “People will listen, but you have to (reach) the opinion leaders.”
Browning said county leaders will need to have a conversation about the role Public Health should have in dealing with reluctant residents.
“I’m a little concerned though that the next step will feel like making people do something they don’t want to do,” Browning said. “We need the statistics and the data to see what’s best for the public.”
Health officials remain worried about what virus variants, which occur as the virus spreads, will mean over time for the effectiveness of current vaccines. Stopping the spread is key, according to the World Health Organization.
County-run pop-up vaccination sites have been scheduled through the summer. A schedule is available at skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.
A full list of vaccination sites by location is available at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.