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Washington has the capacity to vaccinate way more people than the number of doses received

Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington's COVID cases are dropping in an encouraging way, but residents need to remain vigilant or the virus could "eat us alive."   (SSR)
By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Washington now has the capacity to exceed its vaccination goals but the supply of doses is still lagging, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference Thursday.

With the addition of mass vaccination sites, pop-up clinics and mobile clinics statewide, provider requests for vaccine doses far exceeded the number of doses the state received last week, Inslee said.

“All we need are the doses,” he said, adding “we now will be ready to get them into arms as quickly as humanly possible.”

Since Inslee announced a new vaccination plan just over two weeks ago, the state has doubled its daily average of vaccinations, about 28,000 as of Thursday. The state has now given out about 770,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, including nearly 16,000 doses at mass vaccination sites in the last week.

Still, the state is continuing to see a shortage in doses it can allocate.

This week, Washington received less than a third of the doses requested by more than 600 distributors statewide. Also starting this week, the Department of Health began prioritizing a wider variety of vaccine distributors, shifting the majority of doses away from hospitals.

Early on, the department prioritized hospitals largely due to the prioritization of health care workers who were at risk and treating COVID-19 patients, said Michele Roberts, assistant secretary of health.

Now that more people are eligible, they are spreading doses out amongst providers.

“We need to spread our limited vaccine supplies to more sites across the state,” Roberts said.

This helps explain why both Providence and Multi- Care hospitals in Spokane County received no first doses this week.

Roberts said the little more than 107,000 new first doses received this week were distributed accordingly: 19% to community health centers, 23% to hospitals, 35% to mass vaccination sites (including the three sites in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties), 19% to pharmacies and 3% to tribes.

The department is enforcing Inslee’s rule that vaccine distributors must use 95% of their doses within a week of receiving them, and Roberts said they reduced vaccine orders to about 35 vaccine distributors because they were not meeting that threshold.

The department did not give an update on vaccine allocation numbers for next week, but Inslee said he was confident their weekly allocation would increase very soon. Last week, the Biden administration told states they would see a 16% increase in doses over the next three weeks.

Inslee was hesitant Thursday to give a date that he thinks the state would be able to meet its goal of giving out 45,000 doses a day. To do that, the state would need 315,000 doses each week from the federal government.

Pfizer informed the state it would likely double its production in February and again in March, Inslee said. If Moderna also met that degree of production, the state may start hitting its goal in March, but Inslee did not want to mention any particular date.

The Department of Health has pushed back and generalized its vaccine rollout timeline. Instead of a specific month, DOH now has a goal to finish the current tier of Phase 1B, which includes all residents 65 and older and those 50 and older in multigenerational households, by the end of winter.

Other essential workers, like agriculture workers, K-12 educators and people with two or more underlying health conditions, can now expect to have access to the vaccine in spring or summer, according to the revised timeline.

Roberts said that when the state changed the eligibility from 70 and older to 65 and older, about 500,000 more residents became eligible. The current phase includes about 1.7 million people, she said.

“We wanted to be realistic on timing and match it to the data we had at that time from the federal government,” she said.

More vaccines coming to the market could speed up the timeline. On Thursday, Johnson & Johnson applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. The single-dose vaccine could speed up vaccination efforts in the coming months.

Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said Thursday it was “a numbers game” and urged everyone to be patient.

“Your turn is coming,” he said.

This week’s latest numbers: The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 146 new cases and four additional deaths on Thursday. There have been 519 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County.

There are 83 patients with the coronavirus being treated in local hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 93 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. There are 46 Panhandle residents hospitalized for the virus, including 33 being treated at Kootenai Health.

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.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story 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.