As Washington state’s vaccination rate approaches 70%, many more rural counties are lagging behind. Health officials are hoping trusted relationships with physicians will close that gap.
About 67.8% of Washington residents have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. About 51.4% of Spokane County residents have had at least one dose.
According to the Tri-County Health District, the vaccination rates in the three counties range from around 27% in Stevens County to about 36% in Ferry County.
Tri-County Health Officer Sam Artzis said most who are not yet vaccinated are under the age of 50, which is also where of the county’s COVID-19 cases are concentrated.
“The reality of this is the Eastern Region of Washington is going to dealing with COVID a lot longer than other areas because of our low vaccination rates. As of (June 30) when the governor opens things back up, that’s not going to be county specific necessary, it’s going to be statewide, which is going to further our risk for having outbreaks, which we expect to see.”
Artzis said the county has moved away from mass vaccination clinics, and is now focusing on primary care providers, who he hopes can address the hesitancy many rural community members still have.
“If you look at one of our local private clinics down in Chewelah, because of their leadership and understanding the vaccine and its benefits, both for the individual and the community and have managed to give 400 vaccines out of a very small clinic.”
Artzis said the county has also been reaching out to high school students who may be going off to college in the fall to remind them vaccines are required by most universities, and has continued to work with schools to make vaccines available to teenagers.
Tri-County Health Administrator Matt Schanz said there have been successful vaccination efforts in Republic and in Wellpinit.
Wellpinit is on the Spokane Reservation, which has had a successful vaccination effort.
Republic had a large outbreak that led several deaths and severe cases of COVID-19. Schanz said that event, and persistent outreach from local healthcare providers contributed to a much higher vaccination rate than the surrounding communities.
“It comes down to that trusted adviser, somebody that they’ve been seeing for their own family care for years, they’ve developed a relationship with that provider that they can have a conversation. Hopefully you can dispel the myths and the misinformation out there and get down to a productive conversation about the benefits of vaccines for that individual, and the community at large.”