This Dec. 2020 photo shows vials of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)

This Dec. 2020 photo shows vials of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)

Inslee OKs use of single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine

With the first doses arriving this week, Everett schools planned a clinic to vaccinate school employees.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee cleared the way Wednesday for Washington residents to begin receiving the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine this week.

Washington’s first allocation is 60,900 doses, of which an initial 20,000 doses are expected to arrive Thursday and Friday, state health officials said.

The governor authorized its use after a panel of scientists enlisted by Inslee and other Western governors gave a thumbs-up to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, to reduce coronavirus infections and prevent hospitalizations and deaths of those who become ill.

The panel’s recommendation “gives us further confidence around the safety and efficacy of the J & J vaccine,” Inslee said in a statement. “Like the other two, this vaccine offers strong protection against serious illness from COVID-19, which is critical in our fight against this deadly virus.”

The announcement came on the heels of the governor’s decision Tuesday to make teachers, school staff and licensed child care workers immediately eligible for vaccinations.

“This is great news,” Dana Wiebe, president of the Mukilteo Education Association, emailed Wednesday.

Leaders of local teacher unions had been pushing hard for educational staff vaccinations for awhile, she said, particularly for those that are now, or will soon be, working with students in person.

Earlier this year, Inslee had resisted calls from educators, lawmakers, parents and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to move teachers up the priority list, to speed up reopening of schools.

Superintendents of Everett, Mukilteo and Edmonds school districts put their request in writing in January.

“Even with robust health and safety measures to minimize spread of the virus, many staff are understandably feeling nervous and some school staff will not return to school until they are vaccinated,” they wrote. “That will make staffing and reopening schools extremely difficult, if not impossible.”

Inslee’s about-face came hours after President Joe Biden urged governors to get every teacher a dose of vaccine this month.

“I am so happy for our teachers, our administrators and our staff. It brings a ray of hope,” Everett schools Superintendent Ian Saltzman said. “I thank the governor and the president.”

On Saturday, his district will vaccinate 600 school employees with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That represents about a quarter of the district’s work force. It will be done at a special clinic arranged in partnership with the Safeway and Albertsons pharmacies.

Vaccinating school employees won’t necessarily mean districts will expand resumption of in-person learning any faster, if at all. Administrators and teachers will need to reach agreements for each step of any expansion.

In Mukilteo, for example, there are plans for bringing students back in kindergarten through fifth grade, but no other grades.

“We are working really hard right now to make sure that what we have agreed to so far gets up and running smoothly and safely,” Tory Kartchner, incoming association leader, wrote in an email. “As soon as the district indicates they are prepared to start working on more grade levels, we will be ready to negotiate the impacts on behalf of our members.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration had issued an emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Saturday.

The Western States Scientific Safety Review Work Group, established by California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada, met Monday to review the FDA’s actions and submitted its recommendation to the states’ governors Tuesday night. The work group followed a similar process following federal approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in December.

Washington is only getting a third of its allocation of 60,900 doses because that is all the Department of Health requested.

State health officials said they want to figure out how best to integrate its distribution into the statewide vaccination effort before requesting the remainder. They also said they want to learn more of how the federal pharmacy program will be used to support vaccination of child care workers, educators and school staff.

And, they noted, federal officials have said the state will not receive another allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until March 23.

More details could emerge Thursday morning at the Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 response news conference. Inslee also has a news conference planned at 2:30 p.m.

Thus far, more than 2 million doses of vaccine have been delivered to the state since mid-December.

As of Saturday, 1,917,810 doses of vaccine had been delivered to providers in the state and 1,676,787 had been administered, according to state health data. The totals include both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

In addition, 179,010 had been delivered to facilities in the federal long-term care vaccination program.

Snohomish County had received 130,813 doses as of Saturday, according to state records.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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