Middle school vaccinations expected by June

North Olympic Peninsula health officers are preparing for the authorization by summer of 12- to 15-year-olds to have Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to expand its emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s vaccine to people 12 and older possibly as soon as next week. However, local health officers don’t expect the vaccine to be approved at a local level until possibly June.

Once the FDA grants its authorization, Gov. Jay Inslee will have to announce updates to the state’s vaccination eligibility list before the younger teens could be inoculated, which is expected to happen the week of the approval but could take longer, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

Meanwhile, three super-spreader events in Clallam County have caused a total of 108 new cases since April 16, with five of them reported on Wednesday.

The events — one wedding and two parties — had between 30 and 45 attendees who were primarily unvaccinated and unmasked, Berry has said. One was located in Port Angeles, one was on the West End and one was in Sequim, she said. Many of those infected are children.

As a result of the subsequent virus exposures, outbreaks now being tracked in Clallam County include four daycare centers and a high school wrestling team, Berry has said.

Schools in Port Angeles and Sequim have reported cases among staff or students, but there is no indication of in-school transmission, Berry has said.

Jefferson County held steady on Wednesday with no new cases reported. It has confirmed eight cases so far this month, about 2.01 percent of the 398 cases reported since the pandemic began last year, according to county Public Health data.

No recent cases have been seen in schools, although a few were reported in the past, Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, has said.

Clallam County has confirmed 30 cases so far this month, about 2.38 percent of the 1,263 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Both Berry and Locke said they are excited about being able to vaccinate more children soon.

“We are excited that, in terms of trying to achieve this population immunity that we’re going for, children and adolescents are a really important part of that equation,” Locke said. “Our goal is really to get the whole population vaccinated.”

Expanded vaccinations will have a big impact on middle and high schools, especially for the next school year.

“I think the earlier we can start vaccinating children, the faster we can get schools fully open and get our kids safe,” Berry said.

“We’ve certainly experienced over the last week that kids are at risk in large groups when they’re close together, so we’re very excited to bring vaccine to young populations.”

Berry and her team are already working with local middle schools in planning pop-up Pfizer vaccination clinics.

Parents of middle school students will receive more information about those in the next week, she said.

Health officials continue to stress the importance of everyone getting vaccinated as they attempt to curb vaccine hesitancy among people currently eligible.

“We’ve vaccinated most of the people who are highly motivated to get vaccinated at this point,” Locke said.

Officials are working through what they can do to make vaccines more accessible, what they can do to promote them and address concerns regarding them.

Vaccinations are key to preventing further outbreaks, Locke and Berry said.

“Many of the outbreaks we’ve had in the last few weeks were entirely preventable with vaccination,” Berry said.

“We have ample supply and really easy access in the community.

“You can go to pretty much any pharmacy today and get vaccinated. It’s understandable that people are cautious about a new vaccine. It feels like people want to watch and see what happens,” she continued.

“This vaccine is safe; it is highly effective; and it is free and available. It’s really time for us to move forward and get vaccinated.

“It’s time to be done with this pandemic. We have all of the tools. We need to end this, and really vaccination is the key to this being over.”

Fifty-two COVID-19 cases were active as of Wednesday in Clallam County, with two patients currently hospitalized. Jefferson County had 11 active cases Monday.

The Peninsula has had 12 deaths related to COVID-19, with nine in Clallam County and three in Jefferson County.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 107 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Wednesday, while Jefferson County is in the moderate-risk category with a case rate of 62.7 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.