EVERETT — In five weeks, all Washingtonians 16 and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
The state will follow President Joe Biden’s order to make doses available to all by May 1, state Department of Health officials maintained this week. If supply increases or demand slows in coming weeks, that could happen sooner.
Until then, anxiety over securing a dose continues to rise while more and more people try to jump the line to get vaccinated.
“I think we all have a fair amount of pandemic fatigue and are anxious for parts of our old lives to be back,” state Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts said. “I think we can understand where people are coming from. What I would really say is you’re not the most at risk.”
In Snohomish County, a private link containing second-dose appointments was leaked across social media and text messages last week, along with false information claiming the Arlington Municipal Airport vaccination site was offering soon-to-expire doses to anyone who wanted them.
That led staff at the site to turn away hundreds of ineligible people, some from other counties, who signed up for shots that were reserved for people rightfully seeking a second dose.
“While sharing a second dose clinic link with friends or family who need first doses may be tempting, as may sharing posts or messages you see about surplus doses, please be cautious with what you share,” the Snohomish Health District said in a news release. “Misinformation hinders vaccination efforts.”
From the beginning, vaccine clinics have operated on the honor system.
With widespread eligibility weeks away, public health experts are pleading for patience.
“We are asking people to be honest,” Roberts said. “We really need to think about society as a whole and help make sure we’re protecting those people who are at highest risk first.”
Demand and supply
Across the country, some states have already opened vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older, including Idaho.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has said there’s a difference between letting people get in line for a dose and actually delivering one to them.
However, the governor and public health leaders haven’t closed the door on accelerating the timeline if vaccine supply increases, or demand for doses is lower than anticipated.
The state is also considering adding another phase consisting of other essential workers and people with one underlying health condition.
“We don’t have any final decision yet,” Roberts said.
In the past week, the state’s vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov website has made it easier than ever to find a dose.
Statewide, more than 1 million Washingtonians are fully vaccinated. And the state is consistently exceeding its goal of 45,000 shots administered each day, according to a Department of Health news release.
Across Snohomish County, more than 114,000 people are fully vaccinated, while another 81,000 are awaiting their final dose.
On Wednesday, the state will expand eligibility to everyone in Phase 1B, including restaurant staff, construction workers, people ages 60 to 64, those with multiple health conditions and others.
That brings the total number of eligible Washingtonians to more than 5 million. It’s also expected to make finding an appointment more difficult.
As the line of people waiting for shots gets longer, the county’s vaccine task force is working to vaccinate those who can’t leave their homes.
Mobile teams of emergency medical staff from local fire departments have been visiting home-bound seniors who can’t otherwise travel to a vaccine clinic, ensuring they get the potentially life-saving shot.
“These efforts are focused on people who are home-bound by necessity, not those who would prefer to be vaccinated at home but can access care outside of the home,” Snohomish Health District spokesperson Kari Bray said in an email. “In order to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible, it is critical that the first option is to direct people to a vaccination site, medical provider, clinic or pharmacy.”
If someone is eligible and struggling to get vaccinated due to barriers such as transportation, registration or because they are home-bound, they can contact the call center at 425-339-5278.
Once a vaccine vial is opened, providers have a short window of time to administer the doses inside.
Occasionally, vaccinators have extra doses at the end of a day. To prevent them from going to waste, health experts recommend offering the shots to whoever is available, regardless of eligibility.
That has led many non-eligible people to wait outside clinics hoping to secure a dose, often with little success.
Even with a large vaccination site, end-of-day doses usually come in small batches, because providers have learned how to estimate the number of shots they’ll need throughout a day.
Unless a vial is opened, doses can be saved for another day.
Instances in which hundreds, or even dozens, of doses need to be used quickly are rare.
Of the 3 million vaccine doses received across Washington, fewer than 4,000 have gone to waste, Roberts said.