City announces next phase for COVID vaccination efforts

This morning the City of Seattle announced that over the course of June it will be closing its vaccination sites at Lumen Field, Rainier Beach, West Seattle and North Seattle College, and shifting its focus to mobile vaccination teams.

Here are the announced closing dates for the four sites:

  • North Seattle: June 4
  • West Seattle: June 9
  • Lumen Field: June 12
  • Rainier Beach: June 23

The mobile, Rainier Beach and West Seattle sites have been operated by Seattle Fire Department, while the Lumen field site has been operated through a partnership between Swedish and the city. According to a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, SFD will be shifting resources from Rainier Beach and West Seattle as they close to its mobile teams; it will also continue to operate its SODO drive-through COVID testing and vaccination site for the foreseeable future.

Both the fixed sites and the mobile vaccination teams have been key to the city’s efforts to ensure that there is equity in vaccination delivery by reaching historically underserved communities. According to the city, 48% of the 230,000 vaccinations delivered by the city were given to members of BIPOC communities. But over the past month the number of individuals served by the sites has tapered off, while the city sees increasing opportunities for its mobile teams to reach people who can’t or won’t visit one of the vaccination sites.

The mobile vaccination teams’ early focus was directed to adult family homes, long-term care facilities, and permanent supportive housing. More recently they have branched out into affordable housing buildings, sports events, and other special events planned with community organizations. They are also partnering with schools now that the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for children as young at 12; SFD plans to hold over 100 vaccination clinics at schools.

Approximately 75% of Seattle’s population age 12 or older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine; the changes being announced are part of a larger shift in how the city tries to reach the remaining 25%. The devil is in the details: according to the city, 85% of people age 50 or older have been fully vaccinated, compared to only 58% of the entire Seattle population. But since geography clearly matters, moving to a mobile strategy raises important questions about where the unvaccinated people actually are. An analysis of King County Public Health’s data sheds some light on this.

King County tracks vaccinations by the zip code of the recipients. Those statistics, paired with Census Bureau population figures, show some notable variations across the city:

It’s easy to get over-focused on the percentage unvaccinated in a particular area, but what is equally  important is the total number of people who are unvaccinated there: an area with a small population and a low vaccination rate may be less of an opportunity than one with a large population and a higher vaccination rate. But in this case there are two zip codes that present clear opportunities: 98105 (University District, Laurelhurst, Sand Point) and 98122 (Central Area, Pike/Pine, Madrona). Each has 20,000 unvaccinated people and also a relatively low vaccination rate. Those 40,000 people are a big chunk of the 170,000 unvaccinated people in the city and would push us much closer to the goal of strong herd immunity. Rather than go all-mobile, it might make sense for SFD to set up new vaccination sites in these two areas for the next two to four weeks. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said that the city has discussed with King County Public Health setting up a month-long vaccination clinic in the Central District.

It’s also notable that 98118 (parts of South Seattle) and 98133 (North Seattle) pop on the list, given that those are where existing city-run vaccination hubs currently exist. Both have relatively high vaccination rates, though, so it’s not necessarily a reflection of how effective the sites have been: there are simply a lot of people to reach in each of those locations. The Rainier Beach site is scheduled to be the last site to close, on June 23, giving it more time to do its work. In contrast the North Seattle site, which is run by Seattle Visiting Nurse Association, is scheduled to close on June 4 (the city has little data on how the site has been performing because it’s operated by a third-party).

Here is further analysis of where the largest communities of unvaccinated members of BIPOC communities are (apologies for the eye-chart; I recommend printing it out so you can read across the columns). The numbers look a bit goofy in a few places because the census figures King County uses are from 2019 and exclude people age 11 and under.

It highlights that there is still a lot of work to do especially to reach the Black and Hispanic communities, but that there are some specific geographic areas with large concentrations of vaccinated people that would move forward those efforts too. There are also still good opportunities to reach unvaccinated pockets in the city’s Asian community. In contrast, it will be challenging to reach native populations from this point on since the numbers are so small and spread so diffusely across the city. It is also interesting to note the wide variation in vaccination rates across neighborhoods within each of the ethnic communities.

The data also shows that closing the West Seattle and Lumen Field sites makes sense at this point: they have served their nearby communities well, and are quickly moving toward the point of diminishing return.

Overall the shift in strategy is both a recognition of the early success of fixed vaccination sites to get the city close to “herd immunity,” but also the challenges and questions that remain moving forward as large-scale efforts diminish in value. The new emphasis is on bringing vaccinations to people, instead of asking them to travel to a fixed site. In some cases, such as schools and large workplaces, that can be very effective in reducing the 170,000 who are still unvaccinated by large chunks; in other cases it will represent slow, incremental progress. Part of the city’s challenge now is to determine how to best complement vaccination efforts by private organizations, including healthcare providers and pharmacies, and identifying “vaccine deserts” where local residents have few existing options for receiving a vaccine in their own neighborhood. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office noted that Chicago is rolling out an option where residents can schedule an appointment to receive a vaccine in their own home; that will prove expensive and and slow, but perhaps necessary to truly reach everyone who wants a COVID vaccine.

I hope you found this article valuable. If you did, please take a moment to make a contribution to support my ongoing work. Thanks!