A syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine sits on the table during a vaccine clinic at South Pointe Assisted Living on Feb. 12 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

A syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine sits on the table during a vaccine clinic at South Pointe Assisted Living on Feb. 12 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

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Snohomish County to receive its largest shipment of vaccines

Even as case counts drop, researchers are finding a growing number of COVID variants in the state.

EVERETT — Snohomish County is set to receive 30,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses this week — the largest shipment yet.

Of those, 10,000 are reserved for first shots and 20,000 are for second injections.

The shipments are heading to 26 of the county’s 112 state-approved providers, including mass vaccination sites at the Boeing Activity Center in Everett, Edmonds College, the Evergreen State Fairgrounds and Arlington Airport.

And last week’s doses, which were delayed due to severe weather across the country, began arriving Monday.

To prepare for the influx of vaccine, some of the four county sites will likely be open through the weekend, county Department of Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann said during Tuesday’s media briefing.

“We have a significant amount of … capacity that we’re really not using yet because we don’t have enough vaccines, so we’re confident we can expand up and put this out into the community,” he said.

Appointments at the Everett and Edmonds sites open for a week at a time, with slots typically being posted over the weekend or on Monday or Tuesday.

For the Arlington and Monroe clinics, slots open for a day or two at a time, often being made available at about 2 p.m.

Residents who lack internet access or tech savvy can try to schedule an appointment through the county’s call center at 425-339-5278.

Officials said people should use the call center if they can’t access the county’s website.

Meanwhile, the county’s COVID case counts, as well as hospitalizations and deaths from COVID, continue to drop.

Through November and December, officials were reporting more than 400 new infections per 100,000 people every two weeks. Now, that figure is down to 119 per 100,000.

“Our ultimate goal, of course, is zero … at least getting down to below 25 to 50 cases per 100,000 for two weeks, so let’s keep up the momentum,” health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during Tuesday’s media briefing.

Similarly, the number of Snohomish County residents hospitalized due to the virus has dropped from 120 to 35.

And upwards of 30 people were dying from COVID each week. Now, it’s about five.

However, public health officials are worried that new COVID variants could cause a spring surge.

On Monday, researchers identified the state’s first known case of the B1351 variant, which originated in South Africa, the Department of Health announced.

Since last week, the number of cases of the B117 variant, first found in the United Kingdom, has doubled.

It’s still unknown if the South African variant is deadlier than previous ones, or if it spreads more quickly. The strain can reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines, but vaccines should still protect people from developing severe illness and death, experts have said.

The B117 variant from the United Kingdom is known to spread more quickly. However, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide good protection from it.

Currently, researchers at various labs in the state are studying about 1% of positive COVID test samples, meaning there are likely more cases of both variants going undetected.

As of Tuesday, more than 36,000 people in Snohomish County have been fully vaccinated, and about 93,000 are awaiting a second dose, according to Department of Health data.

Last week, more than 25,000 shots were administered countywide, Spitters said.

The number of doses injected each week has climbed steadily in recent weeks, as has the number of doses coming to the county.

“Supply, supply, supply has been the issue for us,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said. “Early on, it was clear we were getting fewer doses than some other counties around the state. We complained about that and I think that’s largely been corrected.”

That’s partially due to changes at the federal level.

So far, the Biden administration has boosted overall supply to states by 70%.

Additionally, the federal government has started sending states a three-week forecast of vaccine deliveries.

For Washington, estimates show the state’s weekly supply could hit 300,000 doses by March 7 — up from about 160,000 a few weeks ago.

Starting next month, the forecast will extend beyond three weeks, likely to multiple months of estimates, federal officials said Tuesday morning on a call with governors.

Locally, the county’s vaccine task force is preparing to debut a new vaccine scheduling system for the Arlington and Monroe sites, which is expected to “vastly improve” the process of securing a dose, Biermann said.

With PrepMod, people who fail to secure an appointment at one of the two sites can be put on a waitlist for future weeks.

The Everett and Edmonds sites will continue with their current registration system.

State officials arranged the switch to PrepMod, Somers said. Some sites in Yakima, Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities have been using it for weeks.

Washington is one of many states nationwide to use the service.

However, health officials across many of them, including in California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have blamed PrepMod for overbooking vaccination sites and slowing down distribution.

“The task force is working to test the PrepMod system with a limited number of appointments to help flag any concerns prior to launch,” health district spokesperson Kari Bray said in an email. “As with any registration system, we know there may be items that come up later and changes may need to be made, but we do anticipate that this system will make for a better user experience as well as streamline the data input piece for the mass vaccination sites.”

All costs for the system are covered by the state.

Additionally, the county plans to bolster its call center staff, as many who have tried to reach the center sometimes spend hours on hold.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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