State expands vaccine eligibility

Local first responders receive vaccines; Fairgrounds to be mass vaccination site

Governor Jay Inslee announced this week that the state is expanding its Phase 1B COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include any Washingtonian age 65 or older, as well as those age 50 and older who are living in multi-generational households.

The move expanded vaccine eligibility, starting Monday, Jan. 18, to 1.5 million Washingtonians, including high-risk health care workers, first responders and residents and staff at long-term care facilities included in the state’s first phase of COVID-19 inoculations.

At a virtual press conference held Jan. 18, the governor noted 80 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Washington have been among those age 65 and older, and said many of the communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus also live in multigenerational households, so the move should “make it possible for more people in higher-risk categories to get vaccines.”

The state’s first vaccination phase, 1A, included high-risk health care workers, as well as first responders. East County Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Mike Carnes said in early January that his crew was in the process of getting vaccinated and that he himself was scheduled to receive his second COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month.

“The county has done a great job with fire and EMS, keeping everyone in the loop and keeping people well-informed about the vaccines,” Carnes said. “It’s going as well as anybody could expect.”

Likewise, Kevin Bergstrom, president of the East Clark Professional Fire Fighters union that represents ECFR and Camas-Washougal Fire Department firefighters, said nearly 90 percent of local firefighters — who also serve as emergency medical responders — have received their first COVID-19 vaccine.

Although there are now 1.5 million Washingtonians eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, state leaders cautioned the state’s supply of vaccine is still limited, with about 100,000 doses coming into Washington each week.

To help get “doses into arms,” Inslee said the state is opening mass vaccination sites the week of Jan. 25, including a mass vaccination site at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield; launching a statewide, online “Phase Finder” function that will help people find out if they are eligible to receive the vaccine and where they might find doses available in their area; requiring health partners administering the vaccines to give 95 percent of their vaccine allocations within one week of receiving the doses; and partnering with private companies, including Kaiser Permanente and Microsoft, to “accelerate COVID vaccinations in the most efficient way possible.”

“This is a massive effort, and it takes everybody pulling on the rope to do this,” Inslee said at a press conference on Monday, Jan. 18. “We are going to be mobilizing thousands of workers and resources to save people from this virus.”

Susan Mullaney, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, agreed and said at the Monday press conference that vaccinating Washingtonians as fast as possible was “an enormous undertaking that will require the very best of every one of us.”

“It is clear that we are at war with COVID,” Mullaney said. “This mission will save many, many lives throughout the state.”

Jane Hopkins, a registered nurse and executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the union that represents 33,000 nurses, healthcare workers and behavioral health workers throughout Washington, was recently named to president-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board.

Hopkins also spoke at the Monday press conference and said there was nothing more important than getting people vaccinated for COVID-19.

“Getting vaccinations out and seeing our state through the end of this pandemic is something that will take all of us working together,” Hopkins said. “We know that this is the only way. That if we want to get this pandemic behind us, we need to get people vaccinated.”

Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state’s new secretary of health, said the measures announced by Inslee on Monday will help the state meet its new goal of vaccinating 45,000 people a day against COVID-19. Currently, the state is inoculating a little more than 14,000 people a day, Shah said.

“The goal is to get vaccines flowing into our state and into the arms of Washingtonians as soon as possible,” he said.

As of Jan. 16, there have been nearly 295,000 doses of COVID-19 given in Washington state, Shah added, with a total of about 696,000 doses sent to Washington from the federal government.

“So 42 percent of the vaccines that have come into the state are in the arms of people,” Shah said. “At least 42 percent, because some reports lag, and we know it’s increasing … that’s the good news, but we need to do more.”

Expanding the eligibility in Phase 1B to include people age 50 and older in multigenerational households as well as all Washingtonians 65 and older — and providing more access through mass vaccination sites, pharmacy providers, clinics, hospitals and tribal communities — should help increase the percentage of Washingtonians being vaccinated for COVID-19.

Inslee said he was excited by the new measures, but urged Washington residents to have patience during these first weeks of vaccination efforts.

“We now have over 1.5 million eligible (people) today, but are only receiving 100,000 doses a week, so we’ll need to have patience,” Inslee said on Jan. 18.

He added that the state’s vaccine allotment is expected to increase over the next several weeks.

“I talked to Pfizar and they have confidence of increased production every month,” Inslee said. “Assuming the federal government continues to give us product, we believe we will receive increased dosages every month.”

Inslee said Washington leaders have been “unpleasantly surprised” by the federal government in the past, but he expects those issues will resolve under the Biden administration.

“The Trump administration pulled the rug out from under us,” Inslee said. “They told us they had second doses in reserve, but it turned out they didn’t. I don’t think we’ll see that with the Biden administration. And I believe we should have high confidence that our numbers of doses will increase in coming months, and we will be there with the logistical resources to make sure (the vaccines) get into people’s arms.”

To access the state’s new Phase Finder tool, which helps Washingtonians determine their eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine and access vaccine providers in their area, visit findyourp hase.org or doh.wa.gov