by Natasha Ashenhurst
Experts at the Mayo Clinic say we need 70% to 80% of the population – more than 200 million Americans – to have immunity to the novel coronavirus for us to benefit from herd immunity.
While the intent to vaccinate has gone up slightly in 2021, research by Civis Analytics shows that 42-49% of the population do not plan on getting the vaccine or are unsure.
Thurston County has been vaccinating residents since the end of January and, at press time, has administered over 130,000 doses. Thurston County Public Health and Social Services (TCPHSS) operates mass vaccination clinics, mobile, pop up and community-based vaccine clinics, which were at capacity early on but have recently seen demand decrease.
“Right now, 54% of Thurston County residents who are 16 years old and older have received at least one dose. We are doing our best to reach everyone who wants a vaccine, but we are beginning to see vaccine hesitancy,” said Schelli Slaughter, Director of TCPHSS. “Thurston County still has high rates of COVID. Our test positive rate is over 10%, which tells us there is a lot of community transmission. Last week five people died from COVID. Our hospitals have been full with COVID—at a 93% ICU occupancy rate. This morning there are eight people on ventilators due to COVID. It is a severe illness, and it is preventable with a vaccine,” she said.
Slaughter explained that it is critical to overcome vaccine hesitancy and ensure that as many people get vaccinated as possible. Data show that while overall intent to get vaccinated did go up slightly across the nation in the last few months, there is still a lot of convincing to do. Thurston County’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of the eligible population—ideally reaching even more.
The County is working seven days a week to reach the 70% vaccination goal. Slaughter said that businesses can help by supporting and encouraging employees to get vaccinated by giving them time off to get the vaccine.
“Supporting and encouraging vaccinations is critical to the health of our community and the health and vitality of our economy,” said Slaughter. “People want to go to events, festivals, family reunions, travel and go back to have our businesses at full capacity, we want that to happen, and the best way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” she said.
“Employers play an important role in increasing vaccination rates as additional research indicates they are viewed as more trustworthy than the federal government,” said David Schaffert, Thurston Chamber President/CEO. He cites research indicating that when asked whether they trust their employers to deliver accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines, about a third of people said they strongly agreed. This was lower than their trust in family/friends and medical experts, higher than their trust in the government and religious leaders and about the same as their trust in drugmakers/pharmaceutical companies.
Additional research by Civis shows that the majority (59%) of people believe that employers should talk to their employees about the COVID-19 vaccine and encourage them to get vaccinated. This attitude increases with higher age, education and income. Only 43% of people, however, believe that their employers should mandate vaccination.
Slaughter agrees, “Having people who have been vaccinated share their story and experience with others is beneficial. We are working to address the myths and misconceptions that are out there. We’ve found that employers and friends leading by example works best to encourage others to get their vaccine.”
Ryan Betz, Vice President of Marketing at Olympia Federal Savings, said that creating circles of influence seems to have the most impact within his organization. “People here who have gotten vaccinated and talked about their experience seems to encourage others to get vaccinated. It is those folks around you that you care about that have a big influence on how we make these serious decisions,” he said.
And while Betz believes in sharing information within circles of influence, he says that Oly Fed also offers paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. In addition, they provide 16 hours of paid volunteer time every year and encourage their employees to volunteer at the vaccination sites as non-medical volunteers, which is another critical element in reaching the County’s vaccination goals.
“For us to operate our vaccine sites and our mobile clinics, we need a lot of volunteers,” said Slaughter. “One of the brightest spots in this whole thing was seeing people step up and volunteer at the clinics. It is so heartwarming and gives me hope and inspiration when I see the volunteers come here, giving up days off and getting here really early, and they do it because they want to save lives. We could not have done any of this without the help of United Way. They stepped up and have recruited over 2,600 volunteers to date, representing 13,426 hours,” she said.
United Way of Thurston County is contracted by Thurston County to recruit, screen, train and supervise all of the non-medical volunteers for the mass vaccination clinics. Chris Wells, Executive Director of United Way, said that, initially, people were so relieved that the vaccine was here. “For the first six weeks, we were overwhelmed with volunteers and were able to fill all open positions in under 20 minutes. Now that a growing number of people have been vaccinated, and there are more and more clinics, we are renewing our call to the community for volunteers,” she said.
Wells explained that some volunteers have worked hundreds of volunteer hours, clinic after clinic, and need to go on vacation, spend time with their family and rest. “Our community is amazing, and these volunteers are talented, hardworking and have such community spirit it is truly inspiring,” she said.
Amanda Rushton with HDR Engineering has volunteered at six clinics to date—and not only has she volunteered, but she has recruited co-workers, friends and family to join her.
“After spending so much time apart from everyone due to COVID, volunteering at the clinics was our first opportunity to be together again and do something for the community,” she said. “I’ve been thrilled with the experience, and it has made me more confident in the overall vaccination effort. We have such amazing people in this community, and I’ve found it is a great way to take care of yourself while caring for others. It feels really good to be able to chip in and help.”
Learn how your business can Rally for Recovery by visiting ThurstonChamber.com
Learn how you can sign up for a vaccine by visiting https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/phss/Coronavirus/Pages/coronavirus-vaccine-info.aspx
Learn how you can volunteer at an upcoming clinic by visiting UnitedWay-Thurston.org