PACIFIC COUNTY — Slowly but surely, covid-19 vaccines are becoming more readily available to residents of Pacific County. But as more of the general public becomes eligible to be vaccinated, local health officials are working to try to win over segments of the population that appear to be more leery of receiving the vaccine.

To date, hesitancy around vaccinations hasn’t notably affected the inoculation drive in Pacific County, which is one of the best-performing counties in the state thus far when it comes to putting shots into arms. County health director Katie Lindstrom said it’s a credit to the county’s 65 and older population, who signed up by the thousands to get vaccinated once they became eligible.

“As we get into these younger and younger age groups, we are concerned there will be more vaccine hesitancy,” Lindstrom said. “We are looking at some strategies to get good messaging out there around the safety of the vaccines.”

Data released earlier this month by the reputable Pew Research Center showed that only 60% of those aged 18 to 29 said they plan to get vaccinated or already have, along with just 63% of those 30 to 49. That’s in sharp contrast with the 85% of those 65 and older who plan to or already have gotten vaccinated.

While there is truth to the claim that older people are more at-risk to contracting severe and sometimes fatal cases of covid-19, Lindstrom said there are faulty claims around the vaccines that are being spread around.

“We understand and respect people’s choices around vaccines, but we don’t want people making decisions about vaccines based on bad information. We just want to get the information out there that’s been vetted and scientifically sound, so people can make informed decisions,” Lindstrom said.

The county is also trying to increase awareness of who should receive the vaccine if they have the opportunity to do so, which currently includes everyone age 16 or older. It also includes those who have previously contracted covid-19, which represents nearly 4% of the county’s population.

“Even if you’ve already had covid, it’s still recommended that you get the vaccine. I think that’s a message we need to do a better job of getting out there,” Lindstrom said.

Part of the messaging thus far has included discussing the safety and efficacy of each of the vaccines that have been approved for use in the United States in the health department’s bi-weekly community forums on Facebook. Officials are also emphasizing that vaccinations are the key to returning to a pre-covid “normal.”

State moves up eligibility dates again

Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled more encouraging news on the state’s vaccination efforts late last week, announcing that covid-19 vaccines will become available to two million more Washingtonians weeks earlier than the state expected.

Beginning March 31, Inslee announced that vaccine eligibility will be expanded to the next two tiers of people, including anyone between 60 and 64 years of age and anyone age 16 or older with two or more comorbidities or underlying health conditions.

Eligibility has also been expanded to other critical workers in congregate settings, including restaurant, construction and manufacturing workers. Additionally, anyone living in congregate settings — such as homeless shelters, correctional facilities and those with disabilities living in group homes — will also become eligible by the end of the month.

These groups were initially not projected to become eligible for the vaccine in Washington until mid-to-late April. As other states announce vaccine eligibility for all adults, Inslee said that the state, for now, will continue to work on vaccinating its population in phases.

“Governors look great when they just say everybody’s eligible for the vaccine. But it’s one thing to be eligible for that vaccine, and it’s another to actually be able to get it,” Inslee said at the press conference.

The news comes after high-risk critical workers in certain congregate settings and people age 16 or older who are pregnant or have a disability that puts them at higher risk became eligible to be vaccinated on March 17. With these new tiers of people becoming eligible to receive the vaccine in two weeks time, more than five million Washington residents and workers will be eligible to be vaccinated by the end of March.

In Pacific County, those wanting to get vaccinated can sign up for the countywide waitlist at https://tinyurl.com/2rjnbb4m, even if they are not currently eligible. County health department staff is sorting those who sign up for the waitlist into their respective eligibility group, and will reach out to them to schedule a vaccine once their group becomes eligible and there is adequate vaccine supply in the county.

Inslee also announced that the state is allowing indoors, in-person visits to long-term care facilities to resume if residents or visitors have been vaccinated. The governor also announced that he is extending the moratorium on evictions through June 30, as well as the moratorium on utility shut-offs through July 31.

As of March 20, 13,254 vaccine doses had been given in Pacific County, up from 11,509 doses a week earlier. About 21.5% of county residents have been fully vaccinated so far. Statewide, 2.83 million doses have been given, up from 2.44 million doses a week ago.

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