After surpassing 10 million vaccine doses administered last week, health officials say Washington state is "on the cusp" of turning down the delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"At this point, with the R-effective being so promising, I think we're really on the cusp of being able to turn this fifth wave down pretty good," State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases Dr. Scott Lindquist said during a Washington State Department of Health online briefing Wednesday, Nov. 10.
Despite his optimism, Lindquist cautioned that does not mean the state is done with its fifth wave of the pandemic and it "doesn't negate the need to wear your mask."
He called case rates "stable," but added that they stabilized at a level higher than what was seen in previous waves.
But Lindquist said there have been some "mild" decreases seen in cases and hospitalizations recently across all age groups.
That couldn't have come at a better time, with hospital occupancy already creeping up as the state enters its season for respiratory illnesses other than COVID.
"This year in addition to COVID, we have to be concerned about things like croup or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) or some of these other common respiratory viruses," Lindquist said. "I'm in practice today seeing patient after patient with respiratory virus that is not COVID. This is really complicating the picture.
"As I've said before, one way to simplify and decrease the burden on the hospitals and clinics is to make sure you get your flu shot also, so we can take that out of the equation."
But the encouraging news, Lindquist said, was that the state is starting to see some increase in its community immunity against COVID, which comes from either natural immunity or vaccination, and the impact that is having on the state's R-effective number.
The state's latest estimate for its R-effective number was 1.07 as of Oct. 16, according to the state's COVID-19 data dashboard, which means each new COVID case is likely to spread to 1.07 people.
"We really look to get our R-effective, or R0, less than one," Lindquist said, "and at this point, it looks like we're reaching that."
Vaccination milestone passed
In addition to Lindquist's promising news that the state may be nearing the end of a delta wave that stretches back to mid-summer for many areas, health officials also celebrated the state recently surpassing the milestone of 10 million vaccine doses administered.
"This is such an amazing milestone," State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said during the briefing. "To give more than 10 million doses of COVID vaccine to more than 5 million people across the state of Washington is, one, no small feat, but it is an incredibly important milestone."
To put the milestone in perspective, Washington State Department of Health Acting Assistant Secretary Michele Roberts said the State Universal Childhood Vaccine Program, which purchases and distributes all vaccines for kids up to age 18, helps administer approximately 3 million vaccine doses per year.
"Here we are at over 10 million doses in under 11 months," Roberts said. "This is really incredible work by state and local public health, our healthcare providers, so many community partners, and of course, all the Washingtonians who have chosen to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others and help us fight this pandemic."
Since pediatric vaccination was approved last week, Roberts said at least 600 kids between ages 5 and 11 across the state have already received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but added those numbers were likely higher due to data delay from providers.
"I know pediatric vaccines can be a bit tough to find right now, and I really appreciate people's patience," Roberts said. "It's going to take a couple more weeks for the vaccine supply to stabilize. So far, more than 265,000 doses have been delivered into the state, with more arriving each day."
She said the state is requesting additional doses in future allocations from the federal government.
Additionally, Roberts reported that 675,000 Washington residents who were eligible have gotten their booster vaccine dose.
Officials reiterated the importance of getting vaccinated to those that haven't yet, particularly with the holidays nearing.
State Deputy Secretary for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach said unvaccinated people can still receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the next couple of days and be fully vaccinated in time for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, while those who begin the Pfizer or Moderna vaccination can be fully vaccinated in time for Christmas and New Year's.
"We are not out of this pandemic," Shah said. "We are still having far too many people testing positive, far too many people getting hospitalized and far too many people losing their lives in our state from this virus that now is largely a preventable disease. ...
"This continues to be a race against a virus. The virus is doing what viruses do — it's taking people on. And if you want to protect yourself, you have to fight back by getting vaccinated, wearing your mask and doing all the things that we have been talking about. That's ultimately how we are going to be able to protect Washingtonians."