Washington announces early plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines

The goal will be to roll it out in phases, likely starting with high-risk communities

Two national COVID-19 vaccine trials resumed this week following a pause to examine safety concerns.

AstraZeneca had stopped administering new doses of its trial vaccine Sept. 6 after a participant developed neurological symptoms described as transverse myelitis, a serious condition of the spinal cord. An independent monitoring committee later determined that the case was likely not related to the vaccine.

Another trial of a vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was paused Oct. 11 after a male volunteer suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The case was later determined to be a stroke.

Even as those trials resume, states are moving towards a framework for how vaccines should be distributed once they are available. 

Earlier this month, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) submitted its interim vaccination plan to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We want to emphasize that this is the first version of our plan,” said Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary with executive oversight for COVID-19 vaccines.  “This is essentially a living document. But the one thing that won’t change is our focus on equitable distribution of the vaccine as a priority. As we learn more about the vaccine, and as we learn more specifically from communities and partners most impacted by COVID-19, this plan will evolve.”

The purpose of the 71-page plan is to determine how the department will approach the work of planning for and distributing a vaccine, once it is deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It also describes crucial lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic vaccine distribution in 2009.

As part of the process of finalizing the plan, throughout the month of October DOH will be seeking input from key community groups including, but not limited to, African American/Black communities, the Latinx community, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities, immigrant and refugee communities, older adults, people experiencing homelessness, farmworkers, people with underlying health conditions, and individuals with disabilities.

DOH noted that other communities would also likely receive initial doses of the vaccine, including essential workers and businesses, health care workers and providers, college students, youth, early learning providers, school staff, and parents.

Online feedback is being welcomed until the end of the day on Mon., Oct. 26 for the initial phase of the plan, though DOH anticipates that further public comment periods will be available.

“While we plan to open up the doors to feedback about this plan, it’s possible that because of limited time and resources, we may not be able to reply to all the feedback we receive,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID-19 Response. “Decision-making is happening alongside our many partners at the local, state, and federal levels.”

The state is also working to determine healthcare providers that will help with distributing vaccines, training them on proper storage and handling, and create messaging around where and how to access the vaccine.