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Washington Health Secretary hopes COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available by late spring, early summer

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 10, 2021

State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah is hopeful that by late spring or early summer a large proportion of Washingtonians, if not all, should have access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

This will be largely dependent on an increase in vaccine doses from the federal government, Shah said during a visit to the Spokane Arena vaccination site Tuesday, as well as equity concerns being addressed. Not knowing exactly what dose allocations will be or which vaccine candidates will be approved makes predictions difficult, however.

Shah visited Spokane on Monday and Tuesday to meet with local health jurisdictions in the eastern part of the state, as well as business and community partners and health care providers in Spokane. 

He also toured the Spokane Arena mass vaccination site on Tuesday.

The state’s greatest hurdle, he said, continues to be the limited number of doses available from the federal government, which is not meeting the demands statewide.

He said this week the federal government will give states a three-week window of allotted dose projections. Previously, states were told on Tuesday what their allotted doses were for the following week, and by Thursday states would have to tell the federal government where to send doses.

The Department of Health is attempting to streamline the process to make an appointment to get vaccinated through public-private partnership, Shah said.

Currently, a Washington resident eligible for the vaccine can look at a list of providers offering the vaccine in their county and use that provider’s website, email address or phone number to book an appointment, depending on the provider. Some health care providers are asking patients to book vaccine appointments through their electronic health records, while signing up for a mass vaccination appointment can feel a bit like the lottery.

Shah said private industry partners, including Microsoft, are helping the department work on a better way for residents to schedule those appointments.

This week, the Department of Health will release race and ethnicity data of who has been vaccinated so far, and according to a Seattle Times report, the preliminary data show that nonwhite residents are not getting vaccinated at rates that match how the virus has impacted them.

“COVID-19 has not started health inequities, it’s unearthed and sometimes made things worse,” Shah said.

The Department of Health is relying on large vaccine collaborative groups as well as local partners to help address equity in distribution and access to the vaccine.

He said one of the reasons he came to Spokane was to have some of those discussions about how to address equity when it comes to local distribution of the vaccine.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure it’s not just about numbers but that we get (vaccine) into all communities,” Shah said.

Shah said the department would focus on precision, ensuring doses get to certain communities that are disproportionately impacted by the virus or those that have limited access to vaccines.

Here’s a look at local numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 92 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and six additional deaths.

There have been 537 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County. There are 65 patients in Spokane hospitals being treated for COVID-19.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 61 new cases of the virus on Tuesday. There are 49 Panhandle residents hospitalized and being treated for COVID-19.

Arielle Dreher'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.

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