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UW experts say COVID-19 vaccine won't impact January, February case numbers

Models released by UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predict death rates from COVID will rise through the end of April despite a vaccine on the way.

SEATTLE — More than 2,925 people in Washington state have died from the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. In all, more than 175,790 have contracted the virus in the state.

While a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way, experts at the University of Washington predicted the situation may get worse before it gets better. At least 65,000 doses of the vaccine created by Pfizer are expected across the state by mid-December.

“For the first time in the nine months or so since I took that call, I am actually very optimistic,” said Dr. David Knoepfle, of Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue. The hospital was once at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

However, new models released by UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show death rates from COVID rising through the end of April, despite being on the cusp of nationwide vaccine distribution.

Of the models predicted, Dr. Chris Murray said the slowest rate of the climb comes with universal mask use.

“[Masks] can make a huge difference,” said Murray. “So, you know, for four months, we've been pointing out that if we can get everybody to wear a mask, or even 95% of people to wear a mask, we can really put the brakes on transmission in many places. So, between now and about April, if everyone listened to President-elect Biden, we could save almost 70,000 lives.”

As for the vaccine, it will save lives, just not immediately. Experts show it will have little impact on infection rates through January and February. 

A vaccine rollout is already underway. Twenty cold storage sites around the state are ready to receive shipments that could come sometime in the next two weeks.

Healthcare workers will be among the first in line to get vaccinated.

“Really, by the end of December, we are all feeling pretty confident that in the state, we’ll see the vast majority of our personnel vaccinated, which is very exciting,” said Knoepfler.