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COVID-19 vaccine arrived one year ago in Pierce County. We’ve still got work to do.

UPDATED: 12/27/2021

COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Pierce County on Dec. 14, 2020. I remember the day well. I helped set up our first few vaccination clinics and watched many of the first shots go into arms. 

Working in the clinics made me eligible to get my first dose early on. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should get vaccinated or wait. 

After a lot of thought, I chose to get the vaccine to protect myself and my family. A year later, I know I made the right choice. I worry, though, too many people in Pierce County still haven’t done the same.

We recently passed 100,000 cases of COVID-19 in our county and are approaching 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic began. We need everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. 

Excitement and hope

Our first mass vaccination clinic in Pierce County was Dec. 26, 2020. 

About 180 volunteers braved the chill the day after Christmas to help at the clinic in Tacoma. Some arrived as early as 6 a.m. to lay down ice melt for the roads. I remember standing on the curb in front of the building and my eyebrows and lashes frosting over. But the cold didn’t dampen our mood.   

We held the clinic for emergency medical and fire personnel. We wanted to get them vaccinated, and train them to do their own drive-thru clinics.

Everyone smiled. We knew we were making history. It’s hard to believe that was nearly 1 year ago. It’s also hard to believe how quickly our momentum has stalled. We need to recapture that hope.

Where we stand

We gave about 15,000 vaccinations those first few weeks. As more people became eligible, more excitement spread. It seemed only a matter of time we’d reach our goal of 80-90% of Pierce County vaccinated and see the benefits. 

We’ve come a long way in a year’s time. We’ve administered more than 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Pierce County. More than 550,000 county residents are fully vaccinated: 60% of our total population and 65% of the eligible population. 

But one-third of our eligible population remains unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. One third of our friends, family and neighbors have less protection against COVID-19. 

We also face the arrival of COVID-19 variants. 

New risk

COVID-19 variants change the game. In the months after vaccines became available, we saw exactly what we hoped to see. In July, cases and hospitalization rates dropped dramatically. Fewer people were hospitalized and dying from COVID-19. 

But by late August, a surge of Delta infections drove cases and hospitalizations to their highest point in the pandemic. COVID-19 deaths spiked. A vast majority of those cases, deaths and hospitalizations were among unvaccinated people. 

The arrival of the Omicron variant means more unknowns. Early studies show vaccines help prevent hospitalizations in those infected with the Omicron variant, particularly those who have received a booster dose. Based on early data, we anticipate Omicron will spread very quickly in our county, highlighting the urgency for everyone 5 and older to get vaccinated and for those 16 and older to get a booster dose.

Vaccines are still our best defense against all types of COVID-19. But we know many people still have questions. 

A choice for all of us

I had a lot of questions about the vaccines a year ago. I’m young and healthy. I breastfed my daughter and worried about what the vaccine meant for her. I considered waiting.

But I talked to doctors and nurses. I learned more about the development of the vaccine. I learned how getting vaccinated while breastfeeding would help provide life-saving antibodies for both me and my daughter. 

After a year of administering the vaccines, we now know even more. We’ve given more than 1.2 million doses. We’ve also seen 11.3 million doses administered statewide since December 2020, and 8.7 billion doses administered around the world

No vaccine is 100% effective. But numbers show COVID vaccines help prevent infections and lessen the chances of the worst outcomes if you are infected. Pierce County residents are 3 times less likely to be infected, 9 times less likely to be hospitalized and 8 times less likely to die from COVID-19 if vaccinated.

My decision to get the vaccine was easy. I wanted to practice what I preached. If I’m out here working at vaccine clinics, I felt it was important to get vaccinated. But more than that, I wanted to add another layer of protection against COVID-19 for me and my family. If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to do the same.

Find your dose

Find your first, second or booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine today at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture. Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated. Everyone 16 and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. 16 and 17-year-olds can get a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months after their second Pfizer shot.

If you need a ride to an appointment or can’t easily leave your home, we can help! Call us at (253) 649-1412, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.

You can do even more to help stop the spread.

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Natasha Holbert, left, and others volunteer at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
  1. UPDATED: 12/27/2021