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Health official: At least 85% vaccination rate now needed to beat COVID-19 delta variant

The new COVID-19 vaccination goal is about 15-20 percentage points higher than the previous target, according to a Confluence Health infectious disease specialist.

SEATTLE — Dr. Mark Johnson, an infectious disease specialist with Confluence Health in Wenatchee, said Washington's COVID-19 vaccination rate needs to reach 85% to 90% of the total population to beat the delta variant.

The update came during a Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) briefing Monday morning where hospital officials updated the public on the status of the state’s health care system.

The situation remains dire, according to the panel of officials.

WSHA CEO Cassie Sauer was joined by Johnson, Chief Physician Officer with MultiCare Health System Dr. Dave Carlson, Maternal Fetal Medicine Physician at Swedish Health Dr. Tanya Sorensen and CEO of Jefferson Healthcare Mike Glenn.

Sauer said that there are 1,570 COVID-19 positive patients in Washington hospitals across the state as of Monday morning.

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That number is the equivalent of multiple major hospitals, like Harborview Medical Center, at capacity, according to Sauer.

A total of 188 of those patients are on ventilators, and roughly 25 to 30 deaths were reported in the latest update.

“Vaccinations are still key,” Sauer said, adding that 90-95% of those who get severely ill are unvaccinated.

Johnson provided an update for Confluence Health, which serves the region around Wenatchee, showing that there has been a three-fold increase in vaccinations in the area and a four-fold increase in tests.

However, despite the increase in vaccinations, the test positivity rate has gone from 4-5% to 20% in the last few weeks.

He also said that, while there used to be a vaccination rate target of 67-70%, it has now shifted to 85-90% of the entire population due to the highly infectious delta variant.

“Delta has changed the game,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, the math keeps changing. And that’s because this virus does what RNA respiratory viruses do: it mutates. It just wants to infect us.”

Sorenson provided an update for pregnant patients, who she said has a vaccination rate of about 40%.

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“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, adding that it is very common when pregnant women are sick, they have to get emergency Cesarean deliveries (C-sections) to save the mother or child. This has resulted in a higher number of premature births.

“It’s just very sad right now,” Sorenson said. “There are no reasons that pregnant (women) should not get vaccinated. The vaccine does not cause infertility. The vaccine cannot give you COVID. In fact, the vaccine may protect your infant. We’ve seen there’s COVID antibodies in breast milk and the maternal serum, which can pass to the fetus.”

Carlson said that the current hospital crisis and staffing shortages were preventable with the vaccine being available.

Carlson said that there are roughly 275 patients with COVID-19 in MultiCare hospitals. If 100% of people were vaccinated, he said that number could be about 10 to 12 patients.

Along with the rest of the specialists, Carlson advocated against mass events like the Washington State Fair because of the additional strain it would inevitably put on hospitals, including the MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital, which reported about 100 COVID-19 patients on Monday.

“The hospital’s full, and we are over the course of the next three weeks likely going to bring in an additional million people to that community. And I am very, very concerned about the stress that that will put on our emergency room and about the stress that will put on our systems,” he said, saying that inevitably a number of those people will need treatment for all sorts of reasons including cuts, broken bones and even more serious ailments like a heart attack.

Sauer and Carlson both said that the Washington State Fair should be canceled, with Sauer explaining the fear is that the public perception of the pandemic is not the same as what’s happening in hospitals.

“We’re going to see another huge winter surge, another surge in April, another summer surge,” Johnson said, explaining that the more people who get vaccinated the more stifled those surges become.

As of Monday, the state’s Department of Health says 73.3% of Washingtonians 12 years old and up have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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