Inslee, health officials express worry over vaccine hesitancy

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With COVID-19 activity rising across the state, Gov. Jay Inslee and health care leaders are urging those who haven’t received a vaccine for the disease to get their shots as Washington sees a slight decline in the rate of daily doses.

During a press conference Thursday, April 22, the governor expressed concern over data showing the beginning of a “fourth surge” of COVID-19 hitting the state for both cases and hospitalizations. The governor said rates in younger populations were rising faster than older ones, and variants of the virus are overtaking the original strain for most prevalent varieties of COVID-19, which in some cases are more transmissible.

Daniel Getz, chief medical officer for Providence Sacred Heart and Providence Holy Family in Spokane, said the hospitals have seen a “steady and worrisome climb” in COVID-19 patients, with more hospitalizations, and in some cases deaths, among younger populations. He said vaccination clinics that the hospital has put on have seen a number of unfilled spots, adding that efforts by hospitals to reach out to 16 and 17-year-old youths has proven “disappointing” in the number who have received their doses.

“Being younger does not guarantee you from getting this disease and having a poor outcome,” Getz said, noting those age groups might be engaging in riskier behavior such as large, unmasked gatherings indoors.

Acknowledging COVID-19 is more fatal in older populations, Inslee said younger individuals are being hospitalized “with very significant illness, sometimes with very prolonged illnesses for months.”

The state has seen an overall decrease in the number of vaccines administered daily. Inslee said the state is administering close to 60,000 doses a day in Washington, slightly lower than the 62,000 a day that was the case last week.

Inslee said the “modest slowdown” was not a shock, as it was expected the individuals most eager to receive the vaccine would be among the first to receive it.

Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID-19 response for the Washington State Department of Health, said the state has already seen the impact on COVID-19 activity.

“While we are seeing an increase in cases and increase in hospitalizations, the slope of increase is not as steep as what we saw in November,” Fehrenbach said.

Inslee said by the end of the week there will have been 5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Washington state, and more than half of the state’s adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“Really the COVID vaccine is the tool that solves the pandemic, but until we have broad vaccination, it’s critical that we continue to mask and social distance,” Getz said.

He said another activity surge would be a hit to the state’s health care system, which is still recovering from the last wave of the disease.

“I never dreamed we would get to a point where we have the key to solving this (pandemic) and we would be slow to recovery because people are scared of taking something that’s been clearly shown using science — and administered hundreds of millions of times — to be safe,” Getz said.

“Being on the fence is too dangerous of a position right now,” Inslee said, urging those with questions about their vaccine to talk with a medical professional.

“Sit down with your doctor and discuss the merits and safety of the vaccine, the potential complications and risks,” Getz said.

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