By Dr. Gib Morrow
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. The future of our community depends on it.
Vaccine has arrived at healthcare facilities, 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 healthcare providers who stepped up to receive and give vaccine, thousands of frontline workers in Kitsap County have already been given immunity. I hope the vaccine provides them and their families with some long-awaited assurance and peace of mind.
With the honor of receiving these first vaccinations comes an obligation to give them. The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for COVID vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. We are in a true state of emergency. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of people are filing for unemployment benefits weekly. Coronavirus case counts have risen above a quarter million people daily. 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 death toll of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed half a million people in the United States and 50 million 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 and make sure we do not waste a minute to get them the vaccines they need now.
The FDA issued emergency use authorization because we need to get these vaccines out of the delivery trucks into people’s arms urgently.While that
sounds simple, it is not. No one government agency is going to do it for us.
Kitsap Public Health District is ready to partner with our healthcare community to get this done. 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 the summer. To get half of Kitsap residents vaccinated by summer, we will need to give a minimum of 270,000 shots in just six 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 protected everyone,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 is health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District. Healthcare providers can find enrollment information at covidvaccinewa.org. Kitsap Public Health is posting local vaccine updates to kcowa.us/vaccine.