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First COVID-19 vaccine doses arrive in Washington

University of Washington Medical Center Montlake campus pharmacy administration resident Derek Pohlmeyer, left, and UWMC pharmacy director Michael Alwan transport a box containing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines toward a waiting vehicle headed to the UW Medical Center's other hospital campuses on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.  (Mike Siegel)

The first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Washington on Monday at the University of Washington Medical Center hospitals in Seattle.

Sixteen other sites will receive their initial shipments of the vaccine this week in 13 counties statewide, which amounts to 31,200 doses.

In Spokane County, 3,900 doses are set to arrive at Providence Health sites this week. Details about the location and timing of the delivery are not being disclosed by the Department of Health, however. MultiCare locations in Spokane expect to receive their first shipments next week.

The federal government, the distributor and freight services used for transport determine when the doses arrive, not the state.

Rollout of the vaccine will be methodical, because initial shipments will not nearly cover all at-risk health care workers or nursing home residents in the state.

The Department of Health expects to receive 222,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine before the end of the month, in addition to 183,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine if it is approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration this week.

There are approximately 500,000 health care workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities who are eligible to receive the vaccine in its first phase, meaning that vaccinating everyone in that phase will extend well into January.

State health officials estimate there will be enough vaccinations for all Washington residents by mid-summer 2021.

The Department of Health estimates it will have enough by the end of January to complete vaccinating health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses taken 21 days apart to be effective. The Pfizer vaccine is estimated to be 95% effective at preventing infection about a week after the second dose.

Health care workers, specifically those who work with COVID-19 patients are at the top of the list for the vaccines. Large hospitals receiving doses in the first shipment expect to begin vaccinating their staff later this week.

“We vaccinate our vaccinators first, so they are safe to vaccinate other people,” Elaine Couture, executive vice president of Providence Health in Washington, told reporters Monday. “This is going to be a Herculean effort; I don’t think any of us have had to do this before.”

The Pfizer vaccine doses will arrive to hospitals and facilities and need to be stored immediately in ultra-cold freezers. Then the real work begins as health care teams will train on how to administer the vaccine. Pharmacy teams will have to dilute, mix and prepare the vaccine doses prior to giving the shots. The coordination could take a day or so before a site begins to vaccinate staff members.

Vaccination sites participated in workshops over the weekend to prepare for receiving doses, and Cassie Sauer, chief executive at the Washington State Hospital Association, said the process is fairly intricate and precise to ensure the vaccine is kept viable and cold.

Statewide, vaccination is expected to begin later this week at the initial sites, but shipments are expected to continue to come into the state on a rolling basis.

June Altaras, chief nursing officer at MultiCare in Washington, said teams at MultiCare hospitals are practicing the vaccination process from preparation to shot to follow-up, to ensure that paperwork and processes are all perfected by the time the vaccine arrives.

Despite the arrival of the vaccine and hospitalizations appearing to flatten a bit statewide, hospital executives reiterated the necessity for residents to follow the governor’s guidance, wear masks and distance.

“We remain very, very concerned about hospital capacity,” Sauer said. “Hospitals are really full and if (they) added or needed to take in 10-15% more patients than they have now for COVID it would be incredibly challenging.”

Couture said that 22% of patients admitted at Kadlec Hospital in the Tri-Cities have COVID-19, and 68% of patients in the intensive care unit there have the virus.

Regional numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed more than 1,000 cases in the last three days, with 720 cases confirmed this weekend and 286 confirmed Monday. There are 130 patients in Spokane hospitals, and 99 of them are county residents. Nine more residents died from the virus over the weekend, bringing the county total deaths to 308.

North Idaho continues to see high rates of the virus.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 451 new cases over the weekend and Monday. Three more residents from the region have died from the virus, bringing the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the Idaho Panhandle to 145.

There are 87 patients at Kootenai Health with the virus. Kootenai Health has not received doses of the Pfizer vaccine yet but expects to this week.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.