State prepping to move to next phase of vaccination

The state is preparing to open up the COVID-19 vaccine to the next tier in coming days, though officials have not yet given a date.

The federal government announced in a news briefing this week that they are urging states to expand access to the vaccine to all residents 65 and older and those under 65 who have comorbidities that can increase the risk of complications from COVID.

While states are not required to follow the recommendations, Washington should be moving to phase 1B soon, according to the Department of Health. That tier includes all residents over 70 and those 50 or older in multi-generational houses.

The state’s aim in delaying the move for another few days is to get as many people in phase 1A vaccinated, said Michele Roberts, assistant state health secretary.

“Opening up Phase 1B doesn’t ‘turn off the spigot’ for people in Phase 1A,” Roberts said, “but we want to make sure that the people prioritized now take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated in the next few days.”

Vaccine distribution has proceeded slowly in the early weeks in Washington. As of the end of Jan. 11, a minimum 201,660 doses of vaccine had been given out from the 624,975 doses that have been shipped to the state. That’s about 32 percent of the allocation, though the percentage may be higher as there tends to be a three-day lag in the data. Roberts said the state is giving between 15,000 and 20,000 doses per day. Another 123,275 doses will come to Washington this week.

The state’s new health secretary, Dr. Umair A. Shah, acknowledged as much this week. Although he expressed frustration with the communication coming from the federal level, he also recognized the public is more interested in getting the vaccine distributed quickly rather than bureaucratic quagmires. “We have a fundamental responsibility to overcome these challenges,” he said.

Shah did cite a lack of “specificity” from the federal government regarding the number of doses the state will receive each week, which can make it difficult to coordinate shipments to various sites around the state.

“We’re finding out just a few days before what the supply is coming into the state,” Shah said.

The state is expected to debut a new vaccine dashboard in the next few days, which aims to provide more transparency in distribution data. The dashboard will display the number of first and second doses given out — which will distinguish between the number of people who have started the vaccine and those who have completed both doses — and the percentage of the population that has been fully vaccinated, among other statistics.

Disease activity

A lull in coronavirus activity around the holidays turned out to be temporary as case counts rebounded; this was likely due to fewer people getting tested rather than virus containment, despite continued restrictions set by the state and Gov. Jay Inslee.

That includes Kitsap County, which on Jan. 1 had a rate of 183.3 cases per 100,000 over a 14 day period. One week later, that number had surged to 234 per 100,000.

“We’re having spikes in cases in many of our counties across the state,” state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said.