OLYMPIA — All Washington residents 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 15, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday.
At a news conference, Inslee said an expected increase in vaccine supply enables the state to open eligibility two weeks ahead of a May 1 target set by President Joe Biden.
“Our successful efforts against COVID continue,” he said. “We are confident we can take this step because our dosage allocations have increased.”
Inslee said he hopes full eligibility will help tamp down a “disturbing uptick in cases in Washington.” He echoed warnings from public health officials across the state who say a recent climb could foreshadow a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.
Roughly 5 million of Washington’s 7.6 million residents were eligible for a vaccine as of Wednesday.
Of those, 2 million people, including 30,000 in Snohomish County, were allowed to get in line Wednesday when the state expanded eligibility to everyone in Phase 1B. That included anyone 60 and older, restaurant staff, construction workers, those in congregate settings such as prisons, and people with two or more health conditions.
That leaves an estimated 1.2 million people over the age of 15. They can get in line in two weeks.
Since vaccinations began Dec. 15, there have been 3.25 million doses administered in Washington. As of Wednesday, 1.2 million people have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to state health officials.
Previously, the governor circled May 1 as the date for opening eligibility to all adults. He resisted calls to move faster, even after a majority of other states did so. Washington now joins California with an April 15 date.
Inslee on Wednesday defended his administration’s methodical approach. Setting phases and tiers to prioritize who could receive a vaccine, and when, resulted in greater efficiency in administering doses and fewer deaths. In the news conference, the governor displayed charts showing states that opened eligibility sooner had administered a lower percentage of doses and suffered a higher death toll.
An emerging worry is the number of people who forgo a shot.
Inslee expressed concern that a large swath of seniors, one of the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19 infections, is not getting vaccinated. An estimated 333,000 people 65 and older have yet to receive a shot, even though they were among the first groups to become eligible.
“This is really disturbing to us,” Inslee said, adding that they “are really living in the danger zone right now. We will be losing folks we could save.”
Wednesday’s announcement of expanded eligibility isn’t a huge surprise.
With Washington receiving an increasing supply of doses from the federal government, the state Department of Health shut down an online tool for figuring out if one is eligible for a shot.
The state expects to get 408,730 total doses this week and roughly 711,000 over the next two weeks. But health officials stress that demand is still outstripping supply and many people will encounter difficulties getting an appointment. This week, for example, providers requested 489,690 doses, or about 20% more than the state received, they said.
“We have a vaccine supply that continues to be a challenge for all of us,” said state Secretary of Health Umair Shah.
While frustration with securing appointments might not ease right away, it should not worsen.
“My sense is that the doses will grow fast enough that the frustration level won’t get worse,” Inslee said.
In a related development Wednesday, Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12.
In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents, compared to 18 among those given dummy shots, Pfizer reported. As of Wednesday, Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: firstname.lastname@example.org | @dospueblos