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Pierce County works to dispel vaccine hesitancy as vaccinations slow down

Pierce County has broadened access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but now health officials are running into a new problem: vaccine hesitancy and people not showing up.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — As Pierce County works to bring COVID-19 cases down, a concerning trend has emerged: a lag in people coming to clinics to get vaccinated. 

"What we’re seeing is that it’s taking longer for our events to get people registered from them," said Mike Halliday of Pierce County Emergency Management. "After people have gotten vaccinated, that initial rush seems to have stalled a little bit. We’re still encouraging people to register, so they can sign up and get a vaccine, but we are seeing that pace slow a bit."

Data from the state Department of Health shows, as of April 19, only 30.4% of people in Pierce County have received one dose of the vaccine, compared to nearly 45% of people in King County who have gotten their first dose. The data shows 21.5% of people in Pierce County are now fully vaccinated, compared to 27.7% in King County.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has suggested language barriers may be an issue in getting the vaccine to the communities that need it most.

Now, health officials in Pierce County are stepping up community engagement to find out what is stopping people from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. They are also improving accessibility to make getting the vaccine as smooth as possible.

"We have weekend and evening hours, we have walk-up options, our call center can actually help folks get rides, or we have a homebound vaccination program too, so if you can’t leave your home for whatever reason, we can work with you through that," said Stephanie Dunkel, assistant division director for Communicable Disease Control for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

But accessibility may not be the only issue some are having when it comes to getting their COVID-19 vaccine. 

Although Monica Whatley has gotten her vaccine, she said she has heard some of her friends and family express their hesitations about the vaccine.

"I actually have heard people say they were a little hesitant and are just waiting to see how everyone else does, and then they’ll get it, but they’re just afraid to get it," said Whatley.

Dunkel said the health department is actively working to engage with the community to better understand why people are hesitant, and any other issues people may be having when it comes to getting the vaccine. She said sometimes all it comes down to is having a conversation. 

To sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine in Pierce County, you can visit the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department COVID-19 vaccine page by clicking here.