King County health official warns of ‘fourth wave’ as COVID-19 case numbers edge up

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King County’s top health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin also says accelerating vaccine eligibility ahead of May 1 could exacerbate inequities.

King County’s top health officer is worried about another COVID-19 surge, and says that he’s not in favor of speeding up the eligibility for vaccinations.

In his weekly phone call with reporters, Dr. Jeff Duchin says recent King County data shows “there’s a good chance we’re looking at the beginning of a fourth wave.”

Duchin says that’s because the county had 200 new cases in the past week, up 43% from two weeks ago. 

“It’s raining and it looks like there may be some unseasonably rough weather ahead,” he said.

It comes as there has been a flood of vaccines entering the country and Washington state. More than 1 million residents are now fully vaccinated, and in King County, 33% of adults have received at least one dose.

With California announcing that all adults will be eligible for vaccination on April 15, some have nudged the state to do the same.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, in a statement, acknowledged that there are issues with equitable distribution of the vaccine, but that the process is becoming more and more confusing. Next week, the vaccines will be available to another tier of people with certain professions, adding potentially 2 million people to the vaccine eligibility pool.

As of right now, Washington state has only announced that every adult will be eligible on May 1st, which is the deadline set by President Joe Biden.

Durkan’s statement seemed to give a slight push to move that date up.

“We learned through the pandemic that it is extremely important for the public to have clear communication on what steps were being taken and what we needed the public to do, and those actions had to be grounded in equity and science. As we near the federal government’s May 1 deadline to expand vaccine eligibility, and once supply significantly increases, the Mayor believes the state should consider expanding eligibility sooner to all community members to reduce confusion.”

But Duchin says he’s not in favor of that right now, pointing to data that shows communities of color are under-vaccinated when compared with the rest of the population.

“Should the vaccine eligibility be open to all adults 16 and older?  That would only make our situation worse, in my opinion, exacerbate the gap between supply and demand,” Duchin said.

“I think increasing the eligibility to all adults would not only further exacerbate the discrepancy between supply and demand, but I think it would make potentially exacerbate inequities in vaccine distribution because we know that people who have more resources and who are more savvy about seeking vaccine are able to acquire it more readily. And that would potentially further disenfranchised, disenfranchised some of the communities that are already under-vaccinated and having difficulty accessing vaccine. So that’s my personal opinion on that,” Duchin said.

The decision to accelerate vaccine eligibility is not in Duchin or Durkan’s hands. It would be up to the state to make that call.

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