May 12, 2021
Who’s getting their shots? Whatcom develops a new strategy for COVID-19 vaccinations
Alex Meacham

Data on vaccination rates by school district is helping Whatcom County health officials fine-tune the strategy for reaching more people who want the COVID-19 vaccine. (Whatcom County Department of Health chart)

May 12, 2021
Who’s getting their shots? Whatcom develops a new strategy for COVID-19 vaccinations
Alex Meacham

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Whatcom County health officials are now reporting COVID-19 vaccine rates in the county by school district, enabling a new, more strategic approach to making vaccine opportunities available to reach the largest number of people and those with access problems.

Vaccine providers enter information about the number of people receiving vaccinations at each site into a statewide Immunization Information System (IIS), Melissa Morin, Whatcom County communications specialist, said in a media update yesterday (May 11). 

Vaccine providers are not required to report vaccination data to local health departments, she said. The IIS is used by healthcare providers or individuals to view vaccine records and the Whatcom County Health Department (WCHD)  is able to “query the state’s database for Whatcom-specific information at any point,” Morin explained. The WCHD also receives a file with Whatcom-specific data from the state every week. 

Clinics where they’re needed

Currently, appointments are widely available, with many sites available for walk-in vaccinations. Up to now, mass-vaccination was the target; now that supply is starting to catch up to demand, the health department can “transition from a mass-vaccination model to a smaller, more diffuse vaccination model,” Morin said.

At a recent mass-vaccination event, the county had 500 doses available, but only around 60 people showed up, Lautenbach said. The new strategy will focus on mobile vaccination clinics, to “meet people where they are, and remove any barriers that could exist for them to not be vaccinated.”

Specific near-term plans include:

  • Providing a clinic on May 15 at Kendall Elementary School in Maple Falls
  • Partnering with Unity Care Northwest on May 18 to provide a clinic for the unsheltered population
  • Coordinating with other organizations on May 19 to reach residents in the eastern part of the county — the geographical area with the lowest vaccination rates. 

The Community Vaccination Clinic at Bellingham Technical College continues to be open on a drop-in basis: no appointment is necessary.

To encourage more people to get the vaccine, the county has a public information campaign underway called COVID-In Real Life that includes a “heavy vaccine-promotion component,” Morin said.

At a report to the Bellingham City Council on Monday, Lautenbach lamented a discouraging trend of shaming on social media of the “other side” on the part of both pro- and antivaccine proponents.

Doubled infections, tripled hospitalizations

Among all people ages 18 through 65 in the region around Whatcom County, the infection rate has recently doubled, and hospitalizations have tripled, Lautenbach said in the briefing on Tuesday. The median age of those who have been hospitalized has also dropped from 67 to 52 over the last 4 months. 

Altogether, 107,130 (46.99%) Whatcom County residents have initiated their vaccination process, and 81,411 (35.71%) are considered fully vaccinated according as of May 11.  

Lautenbach noted that Whatcom County is “teetering on the edge of moving back to phase 2.” If Gov. Jay Inslee’s pause for reevaluation on the Roadmap to Recovery had ended that day, she said, Whatcom would be immediately have been moved back. 

“We have not seen a leveling off or a reduction in our cases. We continue to see high rates of cases, about 37 on average per day which is over the crude estimate of about 32 per day to be under that 200 per 100,000 number,” Lautenbach said. 

Most concerning

She noted that the most concerning data is that when numbers of vaccinated people are removed, the rate of infection among the remainder is extremely high, approximately 289 cases per 100,000 unvaccinated people. 

The Bellingham School District has the highest number of people who have started their COVID-19 vaccination process and Nooksack Valley the lowest, Lautenbach said. 

By school district, the percentages of people who have begun the vaccination process are:

  • Nooksack Valley: 27.1%,
  • Mount Baker: 28.1%
  • Lynden: 34.8%
  • Ferndale: 39.2%
  • Meridian: 45.4%
  • Blaine: 47.5%
  • Bellingham: 58.2%.  

As of May 11, the case rate per 100,000 people in Whatcom County is 213 over 14 days. The requirement for phase 3 of the Roadmap is that there be fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people. 

While total hospitalizations are at 7.9 per 100,000 — already above the 5 per 100,000 threshold — the hospitalization rate among unvaccinated population is much higher, about 19.3 per 100,00. That’s about 4 times the threshold of 5 per 100,000 for phase 2 on the Roadmap to Recovery. 

No patients have been admitted for COVID-19 to St. Joseph Medical Center who have been vaccinated, reported PeaceHealth Chief Medical Officer Sudhakar Karlapudi. He said that he would “strongly recommend vaccination to anybody who can who does not have any contraindication for vaccine.”