The first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine – a critical tool in our fight to end the pandemic – have arrived. Now, a mammoth undertaking begins.
Over the coming months, our healthcare community will face the historic challenge of making these safe and effective vaccines available to as many people, in as many places, as possible. We will need the help of every clinic, pharmacy, and doctor’s office in our community to get this work done. We must band together to do this job and do it well. The future of our community depends on it.
Vaccine began arriving at healthcare facilities in our county this month, with the first doses prioritized for high-risk workers in healthcare settings, emergency medical responders, and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Thanks to the dedication of healthcare providers who stepped up to receive and give vaccine, thousands of frontline workers in Kitsap have already been given this incredible gift of immunity. Those getting the first doses are true heroes in this crisis. I hope the vaccine provides them and their families with some long-awaited assurance and peace of mind.
With this honor of receiving these vaccinations comes an obligation to give them. As we all know, the federal Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. The two most important words in that sentence are not Pfizer or Moderna, and they certainly aren’t federal or agency. The first word I want to talk about is “emergency.”
We are in a true state of emergency. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of people are filing for unemployment benefits weekly. COVID-19 case counts have risen above a quarter million people daily in this third wave. Roughly 3,500 people are dying each day — one person every 30 seconds. Hospitalizations are exceeding 100,000 and rising rapidly. By March, we may exceed the total death toll of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed half a million people in the United States and 50,000,000 worldwide. The vulnerable and the marginalized are suffering. Divisions within our society are deepening. We need to see this as the emergency it truly is for the people who are suffering most and make sure we do not waste a minute to get them the vaccines they need now.
This brings us back to the second key word in that sentence. The FDA issued emergency use authorization because we have to use the vaccines. We need to get these vaccines out of the delivery trucks into peoples’ arms urgently and immediately upon their arrival. While that sounds simple enough, it is not, and here is why.
No one government agency is going to do it for us. The plan is for the healthcare delivery system and government to partner together to administer the vaccines. Federal, state, and local governments are not the healthcare delivery systems in this country. So, we will have to do it ourselves locally with a strong public/private partnership. Kitsap Public Health District is ready to partner with our healthcare community to get this done now.
To understand the magnitude of the task we are facing, consider that our state Department of Health has stated that most people could be vaccinated by the middle of next summer. To get half of Kitsap residents vaccinated by summer, we will need to give a minimum of 270,000 shots in just 6 months – more than 1,500 injections a day, seven days a week. Can we do this? I believe we can. But only if we treat this as the emergency it is. Kitsap community members are already doing their part to fight this pandemic by wearing masks, staying physically apart, postponing gatherings, and making countless other sacrifices to fight the spread of the virus. As healthcare providers, we are the ones who can vaccinate and bring this pandemic to an end.
Decades from now when we are bouncing grandchildren on our knees and they want to hear the story about what we did during the great pandemic, what will we say? I hope we can say that all healthcare providers in our county banded together and, against all odds, protected everyone, including the most vulnerable, by moving as quickly as possible to get the vaccines off the trucks and into those grateful arms.
So, here is what we need. We need pediatricians vaccinating seniors, teachers, school bus drivers, and police. We need EMTs running mass vaccination clinics. We need nursing students working with nurse practitioners or pharmacists to vaccinate residents of assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, homeless shelters, food banks, jails, and restaurants. We need clinics to open and staff daily pop-up vaccination events from Olalla to Hansville. We need to get all these places open as quickly and safely as possible and keep doing it until we get this crucial job done.
Dr. Gib Morrow, MD, is health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District. Healthcare providers can find more enrollment information at covidvaccinewa.org. Kitsap Public Health is posting local vaccine updates to kcowa.us/vaccine.