Ever since early February, when some software volunteers debuted a website to help the public find COVID-19 vaccine appointments, they’ve had a unique window into the ebb and flow of what one engineer there dubbed “the spice.”
Who wants the vaccines, and who doesn’t? Where in the state are the shots snapped right up, and where are they left wanting? They noticed one major trend right from the start.
“Once you start driving east from Seattle, for a few hours, you can find vaccine easily and readily available,” says Jessica Chong, a University of Washington assistant professor of genetics who is volunteering as a data scientist for the WA COVID Vaccine Finder, at covidwa.com.
This regional disparity in vaccine thirst was a curiosity at first, but now has become cause for concern. The 10 counties with the lowest vaccination rates have all seen 22 percent or fewer of their residents get the first shot so far – with nine of those 10 being red counties east of the Cascades. That compares to 31 percent of the state starting the vaccination shots.
Why does this matter? Because public health officials say to reach herd immunity, to the point that life could return to a semblance of normal, 70 percent to 80 percent of state residents need to be immune. In Eastern Washington in particular, segments of society appear to be in no mood to be a part of any herd.