OLYMPIA — The state is ready for Phase 1b of the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan, making more than a million Washingtonians eligible for potentially life-saving shots, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday.
In the newly revised Phase 1b, all residents 65 and older, and those 50 and older who live in multigenerational households, can now get their first shot of the vaccine.
“This is taking place immediately,” Inslee said during a Monday news conference. “The only way to beat this pandemic is to get vaccinated.”
The governor also announced mass vaccination sites in four parts of the state as early as next week, larger dose allotments to Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, and new rules for providers that require them to use what they receive each week, rather than hold onto them.
The moves are part of an ambitious ramp-up to vaccinate 45,000 people a day — roughly quadrupling the current pace — if and when the supply of medication is available.
To get there, Inslee is enlisting the expertise of industry giants Microsoft, Costco, Starbucks and Kaiser Permanente to assist in administering the statewide program.
“This is a massive effort, unlike any we have undertaken in modern history,” Inslee said. “There are simply too many people who need access to COVID vaccines for this process to lag any further.”
Under Phase 1b, about 1.5 million Washingtonians are now eligible for the vaccine — including more than 200,000 in Snohomish County.
With a limited supply of vaccine doses, it may take weeks for people to schedule their shot, however.
“Patience is going to be one of the most important assets for us in the upcoming weeks and months,” Inslee said.
Legislative leaders in both parties have expressed concern about the state’s sluggish rate of vaccination. Monday’s announcement is viewed as an important step toward picking up the pace.
“Our real goal is to do everything we can to get vaccines in arms as soon as it gets here in Washington state,” House Speaker Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said Monday.
Per the state Department of Health, a multigenerational home is any residence in which people of two or more generations live.
“We know communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 often live in multigenerational households,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said during Monday’s news conference.
If you qualify under Phase 1b, public health officials recommend first reaching out to your primary care doctor and asking if they’re providing shots. If not, the Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce has three drive-thru sites across the county.
The clinics — at Paine Field in Everett, Edmonds College in Lynnwood and the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe — offer shots to qualifying residents, by appointment only.
To make an appointment, visit www.snohd.org/564/COVID-Vaccine-Info.
If needed, six more sites could be set up and operating swiftly, said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.
“We have a lot more capacity to give people the vaccine than we have doses. The problem for us right now is not enough doses,” he said. “We need more vaccine.”
Demand for vaccinations is surging in the county and, in some instances, people are getting shots even though they are not technically eligible under the state’s phases.
At the drive-thru vaccine clinic in Monroe, some people who weren’t eligible for shots jumped the line last week and got shots anyway.
Normally, people need to present a vaccine voucher from their employer, employee ID, pay stub or something else to certify they’re eligible in the current phase.
“We are working to tighten the verification process,” Snohomish Health District spokesperson Kari Bray said in an email. “This includes adding an additional screener at check-in and ensuring that all staff and volunteers at that site are reminded that we remain in Phase 1a for vaccination right now and of the verification options and acceptable documentation for Phase 1a eligibility.”
The lapse in security was due to misinformation saying the site was open to everyone, Bray said.
Back in Olympia, the governor’s new rules crack down on how quickly vaccine providers administer shots, and how they report that information to the state.
Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies must now dole out 95% of their shots within a week of receiving them and send the Department of Health daily updates. Providers which fail to meet the 95% target could have their unused allotments redistributed by the state to other providers.
Additionally, every vaccine provider has until Sunday to administer any doses they currently possess.
“We need them to hustle up here,” Inslee said. “This will now be a legal requirement.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health plans to send additional people who can administer vaccines to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies that have struggled to quickly get shots into arms.
The state is also launching mass vaccination clinics in Spokane, Chelan, Benton and Clark counties.
Monday’s announcement comes three days after Snohomish County leaders asked Inslee to send the county more doses and allow vaccination of a wider swath of residents.
“The public is demanding that we take these urgent steps, and we know this is the right thing to do,” wrote county Executive Somers and county Councilmembers Stephanie Wright and Megan Dunn. “We need to increase the number of people eligible for vaccination and increase the supply of vaccine to meet the demand and our capacity to vaccinate.”
On Jan. 12, the Department of Health announced it would receive 123,275 doses in the coming week and distribute them to 142 county sites and 11 tribal or Urban Indian Health Program sites across Washington.
Of the total, 2,300 went to Snohomish County, prompting the Somers administration to ask the governor’s office for more. An additional 1,000 doses were secured by Friday.
On Monday, Somers said, he was frustrated at the relative trickle of doses getting sent to the state’s third-most-populous county.
“It makes absolutely no sense to me,” he said. “We’ve been in daily, almost hourly contact with the governor, complaining about that. We have the capacity to do 4,500 people a day and we don’t have the doses to do it.”
As of Jan. 15, Washington had received 696,175 doses of vaccine and 242,606 had been administered, according to data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the first month since the vaccine reached Snohomish County, about 40,000 doses have flowed into the county and 14,000 people have received their first shot.