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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

All adults to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine in Washington starting April 15

By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – All people 16 years and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington starting April 15.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday, four months after the first vaccinations began in the state, all adults who want the vaccine will be eligible. With limited vaccine supply and possible increases in cases, health officials on Wednesday urged patience.

“It is heartening,” Inslee said in a news conference. “But we are not done yet. We need to do everything possible to keep the number of cases down.”

Inslee’s office cited increased allocations from the federal government as one of the reasons for opening up eligibility. President Joe Biden announced March 11 that all adults should be eligible for the vaccine beginning May 1. Biden adjusted that timeline slightly Monday when he said 90% of Americans would be eligible for the vaccine by mid-April.

Inslee had previously said he did not think Washington would open it up to all adults sooner than May 1, as the state was still working through its phased approach. On Wednesday, all residents 60 and older, those with two or more underlying health conditions and workers in high-risk settings joined other tiers in eligibility. The earlier groups included healthcare workers, seniors and those working in congregate settings.

Beginning April 15, anyone who is eligible can go to the state’s vaccine locator tool or call (800) 525-0127 to make an appointment. Until then, Inslee said only those who are eligible should be making appointments. If an appointment is open now for a date past April 15, anyone 16 and up could take that appointment, but most providers don’t open up their sign-ups this early, said Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine leader.

One of the most “disturbing” trends in the state right now is the number of seniors who have still not received a shot, Inslee said. According to state data, 28% of those older than 65 have not received one.

Everyone should be assisting those older than 65 in signing up for a shot, he said.

Although everyone will be eligible April 15, it will likely still take a while for supply to meet the demand, Inslee said.

“Many of us are going to have to have continued patience,” Inslee said.

Inslee said he was hopeful that increasing vaccine eligibility will aid in the fight to keep virus cases down as new variants emerge and rising case numbers worry health officials.

The Spokane Regional Health District has reported an uptick in cases in young adults in their 20s, as well as teenagers. Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez asked young adults to continue to follow public health guidance and keep gatherings small.

The COVID-19 case rate in Spokane County has plateaued as a result of increasing cases in young adults, and while case counts remain low in older age groups, Velázquez continued to encourage the community to follow public health guidance and, when eligible, get vaccinated.

While vaccines are critical in keeping numbers down, Inslee encouraged everyone to continue to do everything possible to avoid “a rollback.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah also urged everyone to wear masks, stay home, not attend large March Madness celebrations and avoid travel for spring break. With many spring holidays coming up, Shah said it’s important to avoid large in-person gatherings with family and friends.

“It’s going to be up to us,” he said. “We’re in this pandemic until we’re out of this pandemic.”

While the vaccines are largely effective at preventing severe illness and death, breakthrough cases of infection are still possible. State data show that 102 breakthrough COVID-19 cases have been detected out of the more than 1 million residents fully vaccinated thus far, a rate of 0.01%.

Velázquez said there are no documented breakthrough cases in Spokane County yet, however a few cases are being investigated.

Breakthrough cases are expected, as the vaccines are not 100% effective, but should not cause people to hesitate when getting vaccinated, Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist told reporters Wednesday.

“The majority of the people that get vaccinated have an absolutely phenomenal response,” Lindquist said. “We’re already seeing decreased hospitalization and (case) numbers in the people we’re vaccinating.”

He said half of the breakthrough cases were confirmed in people who were asymptomatic and only got tested because of an outbreak or widespread testing, and of those who tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the vast majority were not severely ill.

“The majority of these (people) are less sick than they would have been with COVID,” Lindquist said. “This vaccine, in my mind, has clearly saved thousands of lives in Washington state already.”

Only 8% of those breakthrough cases were hospitalized. Lindquist said the state’s rate of breakthrough cases is in line with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast for the state.

Laboratories in the state are genotyping some of the samples from these breakthrough cases to see if there are common threads like a variant breaking through, or if they’re happening with a particular type of vaccine. The Department of Health plans to publish a report on breakthrough cases in April, but, as of Wednesday, it was too soon to detect any common trends in breakthrough cases so far, Lindquist said.

A look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 57 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and one additional death.

There have been 612 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 51 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and one additional death.

There have been 284 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 23 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19.

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.