Thurston County Falls Short of Vaccine Goal as State Reopens


Thurston County fell short of its goal of having 70% of its 16-and-older population initiate vaccinations by June 30.

Data shows 61.6% of those 16 and older had initiated vaccination and 56.3% had been fully vaccinated as of Monday. Only 46.9% of the total county population has been fully vaccinated, per the data.

In recent weeks, the county's vaccination rate has climbed by single-digit percentage points, reflecting slow demand for the vaccine.

Washington state lifted its COVID-19 requirements on masks, social distancing and capacity limitations on Wednesday. This move effectively ended many policies that had been in place for 15 months — but with some caveats for people who are not yet vaccinated.

Gov. Jay Inslee set the 70% goal in May but even the state missed the mark with just 68.8% as of Wednesday. Though the state has reopened, it could take weeks for Thurston County to reach the 70% goal at its current pace.

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services director Schelli Slaughter acknowledged the county's slow progress during a Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

"I encourage people to please get vaccinated," Slaughter said. "As COVID-19 restrictions lift and we reach this very important milestone in the pandemic, I encourage people to please keep in mind that over half of our population is not yet fully vaccinated."

Schelli advised residents to protect their children and socialize responsibly this Fourth of July weekend. Only children 12 years old or older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, so younger children remain at risk.

Health Office Dimyana Abdelmalek said she has observed COVID-19 transmission rates gradually declining in Thurston County. However, she noted that virus variants are present in the community.

Abdelmalek cited the most recent variant report from Department of Health that shows that one case of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, has been confirmed in Thurston County.

Initial studies indicate the Delta variant, B.1.6172, is more transmissible than other variants, but vaccines have been effective against it, according to the DOH.

"We do know that the Delta variant is more transmissible and we're still learning about what its impact is on disease severity," Abdelmalek said. "So, I am urging Thurston County residents to be cautious, especially going into this Fourth of July weekend."

So far, Thurston County has seen 91 cases of the Alpha variant, which originated in the United Kingdom last fall; four cases of the Beta variant, which originated in South Africa last December; and five cases of the Gamma variant, which originated in Brazil last April.

Additionally, the state has confirmed five cases of one strain of the Epsilon variant and 24 cases of another strain of the same variant. This variant originated in California last spring or summer, according to the DOH, and there is some evidence it is more contagious.

Should Thurston residents still wear masks?

With restrictions lifting, Abdelmalek said she continues to recommend residents wear masks in indoor public spaces and physically distance, even if they are vaccinated.

In a Wednesday news release, the DOH advised residents to hold on to their masks as the state enters this new stage of its recovery.

"Even though the economic reopening represents a return to a more normal life for people who are vaccinated, masks will still be part of daily life for many," said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah in the release.

People who are not fully vaccinated must still wear face masks in indoor public settings, according to the release.

Masks are still required in certain places, such as schools and health care settings, even for fully vaccinated individuals, the release says.

Businesses and local authorities also can continue to set their own mask requirements.

Other settings that will continue to require masks of all people include correctional facilities, homeless shelters, public transportation and transportation hubs.

"Immunity levels in your social circles determine how likely you are to be exposed to the virus, and we expect to continue seeing outbreaks in communities with lower vaccination rates," Shah said in the release. "You can help keep your community safe by getting your vaccine and talking to the people you know about getting theirs."

Thurston County PHSS is continuing to offer free vaccination events every week. Events are listed on their coronavirus vaccine information website. Although no longer required, people are still encouraged to pre-register for these events through the state's PrepMod website.

Residents also can find appointments at local providers such as pharmacies by visiting the state's Vaccine Locator website. Many supermarket pharmacies are taking walk-ins for vaccines.

Those who have difficulty scheduling appointments online can call the Department of Health vaccine hotline at 888-856-5816 or the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services line at 360-867-2610. Information for Spanish speakers is available at these numbers as well.

People interested in volunteering at PHSS vaccine events can sign up through the United Way of Thurston County website. Anyone with questions or concerns about volunteering can call 360-943-2773.