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Seniors 70 and older will be part of next wave for COVID-19 vaccinations in Washington

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 6, 2021

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

The Washington Department of Health is prioritizing older Washington residents and those who live in multi-generational households to be next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Wednesday, state health officials released the additional tiers in vaccine guidance, which outline who is in line after health care workers and first responders to be vaccinated.

The new tiers prioritize residents over the age of 70, those over the age of 50 in multigenerational households and then some high-risk essential workers over the age of 50. Officials warned that the state cannot move past the first phase of vaccination just yet, however.

“Getting through Phase 1A in January is the goal,” Michele Roberts, assistant secretary at the Department of Health, told reporters Wednesday.

Roberts said the tiers were created based on feedback from community groups and thousands of Washington residents in an effort to distribute the vaccine in the most equitable manner.

Getting all health care workers vaccinated is not as simple as distributing vaccine doses to hospitals, however, and the department is working on a tool that will help connect health care workers who are not connected to large hospital systems, like Providence or MultiCare, to doses when they are eligible.

Roberts said the “phase finder” online tool is set to launch on Jan. 18, and it will help people identify what phase they land in based on the work that they do.

If a person is in Phase 1A, they will be directed to vaccine distributors in the community to set up an appointment to be vaccinated. The phase finder tool will use a person’s email address to connect them to vaccine distributors or alert them when it is their turn for the vaccine.

Some hospitals and health care providers who have registered to distribute the vaccine are considered “open pods,” which will vaccinate not only their own health care workers but those from around the county.

So far, about 30 providers locally in Spokane County have been approved to distribute the vaccine, Kayla Myers, who is leading vaccine distribution at the Spokane Regional Health District, told reporters Wednesday. She encouraged more health care providers in the county to enroll to distribute the vaccine.

“Ideally, we should be able to get a lot more providers enrolled, so it isn’t one organization’s efforts,” Myers said.

Locally, some Providence health care workers will receive their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, and in other parts of the state, health care workers have already received their second doses.

State Secretary of Health Umair Shah asked that communities who are closer to moving past Phase 1A to reach out to the department before moving into the next tiers.

“We remain in Phase 1A, and we want to be careful about this,” Shah said, noting that he didn’t want to overwhelm health care systems initially.

So far, vaccine distribution in Washington has been sluggish. Shah said the state has received 522,550 doses, and of that supply, 126,602 doses have been administered since vaccinations began in December . Slightly more people may have been vaccinated in that time, but data is delayed by a couple days.

Shah said the department is dedicated to continuing the work as quickly as possible and asked residents to be patient as the rollout continues.

COVID-19 activity is beginning to flatten in the state. Due to the massive size of the current virus wave, State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said, flattening the curve will take some time. He said the state is still in a tenuous position.

Locally, case counts and hospitalizations remain relatively flat, but are not decreasing significantly.

On Wednesday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 321 new cases of the virus and 10 additional deaths. There have been 392 deaths from COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are currently 129 people receiving treatment for the virus in Spokane hospitals, and 69 of them are county residents.

The Panhandle Health District continues to see high rates of COVID-19, confirming 213 cases on Wednesday. Four more Panhandle residents died from the virus, bringing the region total to 181 deaths due to COVID-19.

There are still 91 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19, and 85 people are being treated for the virus at Kootenai Health.

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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