Six months after the first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed in Washington, the effectiveness of the shots is obvious.
Clark County Public Health reports that, as of May 25, officials had identified 124 “breakthrough” cases. That means that out of nearly 180,000 Clark County residents who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, roughly 1 in 1,400 has contracted the disease.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, Clark County has confirmed about 24,000 cases of COVID-19 — one for every 20 people. Those infections have contributed to 277 deaths.
Because state-run databases for case data and vaccination data are not linked, officials cannot be certain about how many fully vaccinated people have contracted the disease. “The only way we’re able to identify cases among people who are fully vaccinated is through our interviews with people who test positive,” Marissa Armstrong of Clark County Public Health said. “If someone cannot be reached or declines to interview with us, we don’t have their information and do not know if they’ve been vaccinated.”
That is where King County comes in. Officials in Washington’s most populous county took a detailed look at infections through April and May and found that 96.7 percent of recent infections were among people who had not been fully vaccinated.
“For those of us in public health, it’s nothing short of amazing,” the chief health officer for King County told The Seattle Times. “It’s a very clear result. It leads to a basic conclusion: Who’s left to catch COVID-19? People who are unvaccinated.”
Or, as state Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah told the Times: “We’re getting to the point where it’s a tale of two societies. You have one society that is protected fully and is starting to go about its business … and another that is still at high risk of transmission and infection.”
That dynamic is being witnessed throughout the country. States with relatively low vaccination rates are seeing relatively high infection rates — and vice versa. In the first week of June, for example, Alabama had a 70 percent increase in cases from the previous week; Alabama ranks second-to-last in vaccination rates, ahead of Mississippi.
In Washington, not all people who have desired to get a vaccination have been able to. But most have, and we eventually will be at a point where the only unvaccinated residents are those who decline.
COVID vaccines, indeed, are a matter of personal choice. They were authorized for emergency use, and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection report: “COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The vaccines met the Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality.”
While we can respect the decision of those who choose to remain unvaccinated, we hope that choice is based on accurate information. Various falsehoods and unfounded conspiracy theories have followed the vaccines since they were authorized, and personal choices should be based on what experts say rather than what somebody reads on social media.
While a more discerning approach is unlikely to change the minds of people opposed to vaccines, an increase in inoculations will benefit us all. In addition to reducing the rate of infections, vaccines have been shown to reduce the symptoms and the hospitalization rate of those who are breakthrough cases.
All of which points out the game-changing impact of COVID vaccines.