Gov. Inslee announces major expansion of COVID-19 vaccine rollout


Clark County Public Health says people in Phase 1B won’t be eligible here until likely later this week

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that anyone over age 65, or 50 and older in multigenerational households, could now qualify to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, effective immediately.

That’s a change from the previous Phase 1B1 eligibility age of 70 and under, and puts the state in alignment with federal vaccine guidelines.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to greatly expand the state’s COVID-19 eligibility and rollout. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth Southwest
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to greatly expand the state’s COVID-19 eligibility and rollout. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth Southwest

Inslee also said the state was setting a goal of 45,000 daily vaccinations, up from the current rate of 13,000-15,000 per day.

“This is a massive effort, and as noble as any cause will be in 2021: Because this is the year we choose to get vaccinated, Washington,” Inslee said during a press conference Monday. “We are removing as many impediments as possible to Washingtonians getting vaccinated, we are going to deliver every dose that comes into our state. We will still be dependent on the federal government for doses, but we are doing everything we can once it gets here.”

The state also announced plans to set up a number of mass vaccination sites, including one at the Clark County Fairgrounds, staffed by Department of Health (DOH) employees, local health providers, with assistance from the National Guard. Inslee said those sites could open as soon as next week, depending on vaccine availability.

Under changes made by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, most people over age 65 in the state could now qualify for a COVID-19 vaccination. Image courtesy Office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Under changes made by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, most people over age 65 in the state could now qualify for a COVID-19 vaccination. Image courtesy Office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

In response, Clark and Cowlitz County Public Health announced they were still prioritizing Phase 1A vaccinations, with the potential of expanding to Phase 1B1 later this week.

Clark County residents who are eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1a and need help accessing COVID-19 vaccine can submit a request form on the Clark County Public Health COVID-19 vaccine webpage. Later this week, the form will be updated to begin accepting requests for people who are eligible in Phase 1b.

Cowlitz County residents who are eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1a and need help accessing vaccine can submit a request to Cowlitz County Health & Human Services by email to askcowlitzhealth@co.cowlitz.wa.us. Additional information is available on the Cowlitz County Health & Human Services COVID-19 Vaccine webpage.

“We know many people in Phase 1b are eager to get vaccinated. We ask for your patience as we finish vaccinating the last of the Phase 1a population,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, health officer for Clark and Cowlitz counties. “We’re working closely with our health care partners to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

At least five mass vaccination sites are planned around the state, including one at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield. Image courtesy Office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
At least five mass vaccination sites are planned around the state, including one at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield. Image courtesy Office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Melnick clarified that CCPH and Cowlitz County Health and Human Services are still working on a regional approach to offer community vaccination sites, and that that effort is separate from the governor’s plan for a mass vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds.

With the expansion from Phase 1A, which consisted only of frontline medical workers and some first responders, to Phase 1B1, approximately 1.5 million people in Washington now qualify to receive the vaccine, including Governor Inslee who said he and First Lady Trudi would be getting their first dose in the next week or so.

To help coordinate the monumental task of getting people scheduled and vaccinated, the state is forming the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center (WSVCCC), a public-private partnership that will support the Department of Health and the Secretary of Health in building the infrastructure necessary to deliver vaccines safely and effectively. 

Partners will include Kaiser Permanente of Washington, which will help to set up the mass vaccination clinics around the state.

Companies like Starbucks and Microsoft have volunteered resources to help provide expertise and technology to scale up the vaccination effort, while Costco and other pharmacies will help to deliver and administer doses.

“There is nothing more important to our union and to healthcare workers right now than getting vaccinations right. Our patients need it, our economy needs it, and our members and their families need it,” said Jane Hopkins, RN and executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW which will be assisting with volunteer coordination. “We are very excited that Governor Inslee and these partners are coming together to leverage the best expertise available to us. Getting vaccinations out and seeing our state through to the end of this pandemic is going to take all of us, and this command team is the model of what that can look like — Washington businesses and labor working together hand in hand for the greater good and bringing our best resources to bear.” 

To date, Washington has received nearly 700,000 first doses of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, and around 42 percent of those have been administered, though Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah noted that provider reporting is still lagging behind, meaning the number administered is likely higher.

Even so, Inslee and Shah both agreed that providers “must do better,” in order to make sure no dose of vaccine goes to waste.

Once approximately half of people who qualify under Phase 1B1 have been vaccinated, Shah said, providers will be able to begin scheduling people who qualify under tiers 2 through 4. That means a school district that helped to arrange a mass vaccination clinic for phase B2-4 could vaccinate all eligible workers at the same time.

“A vaccine delivered into the arm of a Washingtonian is better than being left on a shelf,” said Shah. “We want our providers to use their common sense, as we also want to make sure we are vaccinating those who are most likely to have an adverse outcome.”

To that end, Inslee said the state is now requiring that any vaccine currently on hand must be administered no later than Jan. 24, and 95 percent of any future shipments must be administered within a week of delivery.

Inslee said the state is also now requiring providers to submit data on vaccinations to DOH within 24 hours of administration, starting Tuesday, Jan. 19. That data must include the amount on hand and number administered.

Mass vaccination clinics will be staffed by workers from DOH, local health departments, as well as assistance from the National Guard in setting up the sites. 

Even before Monday’s press conference had ended, Shah said the state’s Phase Finder website was already experiencing much higher volumes of traffic.

“We want people to recognize that this is going to take time,” said Shah, “and we want to encourage patience from our communities.”

The delivery of vaccines would not be like a shipment from Amazon, the governor added.

“Patience is going to be one of the most important assets for us in the upcoming weeks and months,” said Inslee. “But we think this is going to dramatically increase the number of Washingtonians that are going to be receiving this vaccine.”

Inslee said many providers have been hesitant to schedule vaccinations over concerns that they may not receive shipments in a timely manner. Still, he said that needs to go forward in order to ensure that people can get into the queue and start the process.

Asked what the punishment might be for health providers that don’t follow through with getting vaccines into arms as quickly as the state would like, Inslee said he didn’t expect enforcement would be needed.

“Our partners are motivated,” he said, “they just needed a little more inspiration to get this done.”

Currently, the state is receiving an average of 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine per week, far less than would be needed to reach their goal of 45,000 administered per day. Inslee said conversations with Pfizer have led him to believe that shipment sizes will continue to increase in the coming months.

“There is going to be inevitable frustration that we will have to steel ourselves to,” said Inslee. “It is unfortunately a reality that there will be times when people will not have dosages available in their community.”

Still, Inslee and other state health officials said it is vital that Washington continue to lead in striving to fight the pandemic as aggressively as possible.

“Our state should be proud of the example we have set and, more importantly, the lives we have saved. It did not happen by accident,” Inslee said. “It happened because of Washingtonians’ sound, science-based, responsible actions as individuals. Everyone can take some measure of pride in how well we have cared for others in these frightening times.

“And we will continue to lead,” the governor concluded.

The updated Phase Finder tool on the DOH website allows people to determine if they qualify for a COVID vaccine, or to sign up for a notification when they become eligible.

Inslee said the site will also soon include information on where shipments have been delivered, so people can see in real-time where they might be able to get a shot.

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