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Washington health officials hope state's COVID-19 vaccination can outpace virus variants

The ramping up of the state's vaccination program is a race against time — to prevent the spread of existing variants or the emergence of a new one.

Washington’s Department of Health reports that the three most worrisome variations of the coronavirus are present in some 156 individuals tested in the state.

The variants are commonly referred to as the U.K. variant, the South African variant and the South American variant. The U.K. variant is of the biggest concern nationally for how rapidly it spreads and its association with more serious disease and death.

While all three vaccines now used in the U.S. — from two-dose Pfizer and Moderna injections and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine — are all proving highly effective at preventing serious disease and death due to the new variants, the state says it’s pushing to carry out more genomic testing to see what strains of the virus are present, and how many keep emerging.

While the state has been ramping up with its vaccination program as more vaccine becomes available, it's a race against time — to prevent the spread of these variants or the emergence of a new, more vaccine-resistant one.

DOH epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said in his weekly briefing that the state health officials on Thursday started talking to the CDC about “breakthrough,” someone who gets sick with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated.

The 156 documented variant cases in Washington state, many from the state’s lab in Shoreline, may not sound like much, but it may be just the tip of a bigger problem, with more cases going undetected.

While the state has seen more than 331,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, Lindquist doesn’t see 156 as small.

“That’s a very large number, that’s very concerning and we are watching it," he said. "The good news, we have not seen a big trend in more severe disease or death in this first group of variants."


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