People are given the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 on Sunday at a one-day vaccination clinic in an Amazon facility in Seattle that was operated by Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

People are given the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 on Sunday at a one-day vaccination clinic in an Amazon facility in Seattle that was operated by Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Still no easy way to get vaccine, but that could change soon

With low supply and high demand, appointments are filled within hours as Snohomish County awaits more doses.

EVERETT — Bolstered vaccine shipments, better supplies and a new delivery forecast should soon make it easier to get a vaccine in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.

Until then, it could take weeks to schedule your shot.

Across Snohomish County, more than a dozen pharmacies and clinics have been administering doses. But as of Tuesday, none of them were scheduling appointments or allowing walk-in shots, due to a lack of supply.

Those include the county’s three mass vaccination sites; Providence’s three sites in Everett, Mill Creek and Monroe; Western Washington Medical Group clinics in Everett and Snohomish; The Everett Clinic; Sea Mar Community Health Centers in Monroe and Marysville; QFC stores in Everett, Edmonds and Mill Creek; Skagit Regional Clinic in Smokey Point; and Mill Creek Family Practice.

When appointments are available, they’re often booked in a matter of hours.

Getting a shot quickly will likely require checking multiple provider websites each day as doses flow into the county.

For people who don’t have access to the internet or have a primary care provider scheduling their shot, it could take weeks.

“If 200,000 people go in and try to schedule 20,000 appointments, it’s a one in 10 chance you’ll get an appointment that week,” Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said. “Ultimately, it will get easier and easier and easier, and then we’ll saturate that 1B1 group and move on to the next, and that cycle will likely repeat itself.”

One issue is how the vaccine is delivered. It’s a layered approach.

Each week, the federal government tells the state how many doses it can distribute. The state then decides how to allocate shipments and tells providers how much they’re going to receive.

And there’s no guarantee for how many doses a state, or provider, will get, so scheduling shots ahead of time is difficult.

“It’s literally what’s sitting in the freezer,” Western Washington Medical Group CEO David Russian said.

The medical group has vaccine clinics in Everett and Snohomish, but with low supply, appointments are usually filled within hours.

But that could soon change.

On a call with governors Tuesday morning, President Joe Biden’s vaccine team outlined new steps to bolster shipments to states, give three-week delivery forecasts and send special syringes that can yield extra doses from vials.

“This is really great news,” Inslee said at a video news conference. “Our providers have been bedeviled with the uncertainty and unpredictability of the delivery schedules.”

For Washington, the increased shipments mean 16% more doses starting next week.

Currently, the state is allotted about 100,000 doses each week.

This week, Snohomish County is receiving 17,000 vaccine doses — a steep increase from previous shipments.

“We believe we just weren’t getting quite an equitable apportionment of vaccine, but that’s beginning to change,” County Executive Dave Somers said. “I had an old friend suggest we needed to be a squeaky wheel. I just want to assure everyone we are squeaking loudly.”

About 8,000 of the incoming doses are headed to the county’s three drive-thru vaccine clinics at Paine Field in Everett, Edmonds College in Lynnwood and the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.

Going forward, the state is shifting 45% of its total vaccine allotment to mass vaccination sites across Washington, including the three in Snohomish County.

It’s part of the state’s plan to boost vaccine capacity as doses become more available and reach 45,000 shots per day.

The new strategy includes four state-run mass vaccination sites and new rules that require vaccine providers to administer doses quickly.

In about a week, the state has gone from about 14,000 shots per day to nearly 40,000 Monday.

“We are moving the needle big time and I know people were anxious for us to do that,” Inslee said.

Statewide, more than 400,000 people have received their first dose, and another 70,000 are fully vaccinated.

In Snohomish County, about 42,000 shots have been administered, with 20,000 people getting a dose last week.

Positive trends

Meanwhile, recent data show that Snohomish County may have seen the worst of the virus’ third wave, which proved to be the deadliest.

Nearly half of the county’s COVID deaths have occurred since mid-November as case counts and hospitalizations reached record highs.

In recent weeks, key pandemic metrics have shifted in the right direction.

The county’s two-week rolling case rate is the lowest it’s been since November.

In a 14-day period ending Saturday, the county recorded 253 new COVID infections per 100,000 residents — down from 376 per 100,000 a week ago.

Hospitalizations from the virus have nearly halved in recent weeks, from 100 to 110 to about 60.

The recent positive trends could bode well for Snohomish County’s bid to advance to the next phase in the state’s new reopening plan — which would allow some indoor dining and activity at movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums.

However, the state’s plan groups Snohomish, King and Pierce counties into one Puget Sound region.

If Snohomish County qualifies sooner than the rest, Somers will ask the state to reconsider the regional approach.

“We’re in discussions with the state every day about this issue,” Somers said. “We’re not the only ones with this concern.”

During the news conference in Olympia, Inslee said he has no plans to split up the state’s regions.

And despite the positive trends, Snohomish County is not out of the woods yet, Somers said.

On Saturday, public health agencies reported two Snohomish County cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, originally discovered in London.

Early data suggest the new strain spreads more quickly than other variants and could pose a higher risk for hospitalizations or death.

The two county residents did not contract the specific strain because of travel, and both experienced mild or asymptomatic illness, Spitters said Tuesday.

“While this is a cause for concern, it’s not an alarm bell,” Spitters said. “It was only a matter of time for one of these variants to land in Washington state.”

But the news reinforces the need for people to continue wearing masks, limit interactions and socially distance, he added.

Another B.1.1.7 case was detected in a Pierce County resident. Statewide, officials estimate 0.2% of COVID cases involve the new strain.

Over the next few months, the B.1.1.7 variant could be the predominant strain of COVID nationwide, the federal Centers for Disease Control has said.

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

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