With plenty of uncertainty surrounding the new omicron variant of COVID-19, Gov. Jay Inslee said now is the time the remaining one-third of Washington state residents yet to get vaccinated should roll up their sleeves.
"There is not much we know about omicron, but we know we will have more information in the upcoming weeks," Inslee said during a briefing held Thursday, Dec. 2. "But the one thing we know about omicron, and this is a certainty, it makes sense to get vaccinated today, no matter what we find out about omicron, because today we are threatened by delta.
"It would be really sad if people lose their lives today because they've been killed by the delta variant while they're worrying about omicron. Delta is killing people today."
Inslee once again urged everyone state who is eligible to get vaccinated or to receive their booster to do so as soon as possible.
The state believes it has adequate sequencing ability to detect omicron once it spreads to Washington, Inslee said.
"The way to be active against this new variant is to be active against the old variant, which is today killing people in the state of Washington," Inslee said.
Inslee said the state had seen good success, with the number of residents seeking booster shots increasing "significantly," as the CDC is now recommending boosters for residents 18 and older.
The state has seen a 30% increase in the number of calls on the state's vaccine hotline compared to recent weeks and a 75% increase in visits to the state online vaccine finder, Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said during the briefing.
The state also has received an additional 30,000 vaccine doses in its quota from the federal government, Inslee said, and it has requested an additional 80,000 doses on top of that in upcoming weeks.
"People, in part because of the omicron news, we think, are increasing their acceptance and usage of the booster," Inslee said. "We think that is really good news."
Inslee urged Washington residents seeking the vaccine to realize it may take some time and effort to schedule vaccination appointments due to that increased demand, but to "keep at it — hours don't count, but weeks do when it comes to booster shots."
"The problem with access to vaccines, at least on a long-term basis, is a lack of people willing to get it. That's the fundamental problem," Inslee said. "There is a temporary bulge in the pipeline, because people have come in in droves the last few days because the omicron is scaring a lot of people. The demand has skyrocketed. It is a relatively temporary condition. You will be able to get this vaccine if you want it — you may have to wait a day or two."
Inslee said he was confident the state would be able to get boosters to those that want them in a "reasonable" amount of time, but he again turned his attention to the 34% of the state's eligible residents who have not yet received their primary vaccine doses.
"We want to continue to remind everybody if you have not gotten your vaccine, please this is a reason," Shah said. "Not just omicron, but the fact that we are just coming off our delta surge, we have winter coming up, it could be respiratory season."
In addition to speaking about COVID, Inslee said plans are to role out his proposed budget the week of Dec. 13.
"It's a short session, but we have tremendous opportunity to do good things in the state of Washington this year, in part because of our fiscal situation and in part because of our recognition for action," Inslee said. "We will be taking action this year big time, even though it is a short session."