There is a high likelihood that you — a typical CHS reader — will not receive your first COVID-19 vaccination until May at the earliest, according to new guidance from the Washington State Department of Health.
Most Washingtonians — and most of you — fall into a “future phases” plan to come currently slated to run from May through at least December 2021.
“Vaccine prioritization decisions are complex, but based in a need for equitable distribution,” Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said in the announcement . “Our priority has been to get the vaccine to high-priority people first.”
The newly announced vaccination plan includes the first details from state officials about how it will administrate the process beyond the highly controlled environments of major health providers and care facilities where the first vaccinations were delivered to workers and residents to end 2020. This first vaccination phase — dubbed “phase 1A” by the state, is currently underway and the state says the next phases won’t begin until later this month.
While the state guidance specifies a general timeline for “phase B” when key groups including essential workers in “Agriculture; food processing; grocery stores; K-12 (teachers and school staff); childcare; corrections, prisons, jails or detention facilities (staff); public transit; fire; law enforcement” and “All people 70 years and older,” it does not include important details about communications and how and where the shots will be administered.
“While phase 1A is still the priority, we hope that the release of phase 1B guidance will help facilities, counties and individuals plan for the months ahead,” the state announcement reads. “Once we’re ready to start phase 1B, we will let our communities know how and where to get vaccine.”
Nearly 200 organizations are enrolled as vaccine providers in the state. Any clinic, pharmacy, or hospital can enroll in the program. The first vaccine requires storage at “ultra-cold” temperatures but the state is allowing facilities without that type of unit to apply.
The first round of distribution will be extremely limited with around 20 large sites across the state getting doses for distribution to frontline health workers and assisted living facilities. Eventually, the vaccines will be distributed for access by the general public. In the early days especially, the vaccination sites will probably be set up like the typical COVID-19 testing facilities or flu clinics. More innovation will likely follow including drive-thru and walk-up solutions and possibly neighborhood locations like fire stations or churches. On Capitol Hill, a for-profit testing provider that has opened shop on 15th Ave E has said it also plans to provide vaccination services.
The vaccines acquired with taxpayer money will be free but providers may charge an administration fee that can be reimbursed by health insurance companies or Medicaid and Medicare.
Washington health officials have introduced a new service you can use to find out if you might be eligible in the current vaccination phase or to alert you when criteria changes. You can register at findyourphasewa.org.
Work is also underway to plan distribution to harder to reach communities like Seattle’s unhoused population.
CHS reported here on the details of the vaccines that have received emergency approval and how they are being distributed state by state.
State officials said this week they have received 522,550 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna and providers had administered around 126,000 doses as of the start of this week.
The Department of Health estimates there are 300,000 to 400,000 health care workers in the state that will need to be vaccinated in the first rounds.
UPDATE: King County has announced a $7 million plan to create mass COVID-19 vaccination sites:
The county plans to launch two vaccination sites in hard-hit south King County as soon as Feb. 1, said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. The county will launch mobile vaccination clinics as soon as possible, Hayes added. County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would pay for these sites with its own budget.
The first details of the first months of Washington’s vaccine rollout follow the unveiling of the state’s 2021 reopening plan as it hopes to emerge from the latest lockdowns even as the nation is experiencing record high levels of new cases. While Washington ranks sixth overall by positive cases per capita in the nation, state and local health officials remain concerned about hospital readiness should surges pick back up and continue.
Unlike the summer’s phases, Washington’s new phased approach is regional and ties the fate of Seattle and King County to also slowing the pandemic in neighboring Snohomish and Pierce Counties.
Our “Puget Sound” region will begin in the most restrictive Phase 1 when the new reopening plan goes into effect starting Monday. You can read more about Phase 2 and beyond here.
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