Amid good news on COVID, a troubling drop in vaccine demand

The wrinkle in the good news for Whidbey Island and the nation is that demand for vaccinations is decreasing, which is very bad news for public health and businesses.

Thursday was an astonishing day for positive news about COVID-19 in the state and the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dramatically eased guidance on masks for fully vaccinated people.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction announced that all schools will return to full-time, in-person classes in the fall. The state Department of Health followed the federal government’s lead and approved the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12 years old.

And Gov. Jay Inslee said COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted by June 30, or possibly earlier if vaccination rates climb and new case rates plummet. A full reopening could happen sooner if 70 percent of those 16 and older get their first vaccination in the coming weeks.

The wrinkle in the good news for Whidbey Island and the nation is that demand for vaccinations is decreasing, which is very bad news for public health and businesses.

WhidbeyHealth Medical Center reports that while appointments for the second dose remain steady, appointments for a first dose have dropped. The vaccine market has become more saturated as additional vaccines came on the market and additional commercial pharmacies have started offering them.

In fact, the hospital has 50 percent more vaccines than appointments.

“This was initially a surprise for us, as earlier in the year, within a few hours of releasing appointments they would be completely booked,” spokesperson Conon O’Brien wrote in a statement to the newspaper.

Hospital officials, he said, have been working with Island County Public Health to ensure that extra doses are distributed to underserved communities, such as Camano Island.

“The most important thing is for our community and others across the State and Country to be vaccinated to combat and ultimately end the coronavirus pandemic,” the statement says.

Don Mason, Island County’s COVID response manager, told the county commissioners that providers in the county ordered fewer doses of vaccinations this week because they have vaccines left over from the previous week. Because of the drop in demand, the state changed its policy that had required providers to use 95 percent of their stock within seven days, he said.

“Providers are now allowed to hold vaccines for longer and be more strategic in their use,” he said.

According to the latest federal statistics, only slightly over 35 percent of the nation is fully vaccinated. It’s slightly better in Washington state, with nearly 38 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

Yet only 33 percent of Island County’s population is fully vaccinated, the state reports.

Mason said the county has been working with the hospital and Island Drug to encourage vaccinations by holding mobile clinics throughout the county for employers and groups.

Pop-up clinics were recently held at the Good Cheer Food Bank in Bayview, Island Athletic Club in Freeland and the Best Western in Oak Harbor. He said at least 15 people have participated in each.

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