Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Oct. 19, 2021

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Cowlitz County COVID-19 vaccine rates increase, mostly due to mandates, providers say


Cowlitz County is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 vaccines with the number increasing about 55% over the last six weeks, according to the state Department of Health.

The number of patients coming to the Community Health Partners clinic in Longview for COVID-19 vaccines has tripled in the last couple weeks, said Brian Dolan, clinic manager. The free clinic and vaccine provider Safeway attribute much of the uptick to recent vaccine mandates.

After dropping in the spring and remaining flat through July, Washington has seen a 20% to 30% increase in vaccine doses given in the last month and a half, said Michele Roberts, state acting assistant secretary of prevention and community health, during a press briefing Wednesday.

“There’s probably multiple factors, but the vaccine requirements are probably part of that, along with just the high levels of disease,” Roberts said.

In early August, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the requirement for most state employees, healthcare and long-term care workers to be vaccinated by Oct. 18. Teachers and other school staff were added to the mandate the following week. PeaceHealth and Kaiser Permanente announced their own mandates earlier in August.

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden ordered federal vaccine requirements for all employers with more than 100 workers, requiring them to be vaccinated or tested for the virus weekly. The same is true for staff at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid.

Whatever their reason, more people are showing up to get their shots. Some patients are leery of the vaccine and begrudgingly get it, Community Partners Executive Director Ken Dale said. Others are thankful the clinic is offering the shots, he said.

Early Thursday afternoon, the small waiting area at Community Health Partners was bustling with volunteers and patients, at least three of whom were waiting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Among them was Nellie Witt, who drove from Vancouver to the only place she could find an appointment to get the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after searching for about a month.

Witt, 64, was hesitant to get the vaccine and said she doesn’t normally get flu vaccines.

“I don’t get any vaccines,” she said. “I eat right and exercise.”

Witt said she decided to get the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot because her husband and kids were “riding me about it” and because of new mandates for workers.

“I’m tired of sitting at home and I wanted to get everybody off my back,” she said.

When Witt told volunteer registered nurse Susan Barnes she was scared to get the vaccine, Barnes explained how the vaccine was developed more quickly than usual. The nurse said researchers had been working on vaccines for coronaviruses for years before the pandemic and combined knowledge to develop a vaccine to protect against the virus that causes COVID-19. Millions of people have gotten the shot without serious reactions, Barnes said.

Barnes told Witt she still could get COVID-19 after vaccination, but that it’s unlikely she’d get sick enough to be hospitalized and she’d have even less of a chance of being on a ventilator or dying from the virus.

After Barnes gave her patient the shot, Witt told her she did a “fantastic” job.

“It was much easier than I thought, at least so far,” Witt said.

It will likely take several weeks to see the effect of the vaccine requirements because of time required in between doses for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the two weeks after to be considered fully vaccinated, said Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah.

As of Wednesday, 62.3% of state residents had initiated vaccination and 56.5% were fully vaccinated. In Cowlitz County, 53.6% of residents had received at least one dose and 47.8% were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

County providers administered 424 doses on Sept. 7, the highest number of shots given since June 22, according to the Department of Health.

Safeway Pharmacy District Manager Hans Hoge said Southwest Washington pharmacies have seen an increase in vaccinations because booster shots are available for immune compromised people and because of the mandates.

The Community Health Partners clinic is one of the only locations giving Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the area, and multiple patients have traveled from outside the county to get the single-dose shot, manager Dolan said.

Executive Director Dale said he thinks the mandate is the main reason many people are getting the vaccine.

“But it doesn’t matter, we don’t care why they come in. Whatever their motivation is, we’re excited that they’re getting it,” he said.

Community Health Partners has given vaccinations to ship crews at area ports, as well as at pop-up clinics throughout the community. Most recently, they partnered with the Ethnic Support Council to administer vaccines at the Kelso Highlander Festival last weekend.

Sally Hembree, council outreach coordinator, said the festival was the twelfth vaccine clinic the Kelso-based organization has helped with.

During the festival, one patient said she traveled from Oregon because she wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Hembree said.

“You could tell she was a little nervous about it,” Hembree said. “She said she decided to get the vaccine because she knows the company she works for is going to have to do (require) it.”

Hembree said the woman’s husband initially declined the vaccine, but decided to get it after hearing about the uncertainty of the Johnson & Johnson supply in the region.

Some people are hesitant because they don’t think the vaccines have been studied enough, others don’t want to be told what to do, Hembree said.

The Ethnic Support Council is working to get clients information about the vaccine mandate in their preferred language because it would be huge for them to lose a job, especially with utility and eviction moratoriums ending, Hembree said.

“I think a lot of the families I work with when it comes down to it, I think they would get the shot because their families are very important to them,” she said.