by Ashley Archibald
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that the State would open eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to all people over the age of 16 on April 15, a move that will allow another million Washingtonians to make appointments for the shot two weeks ahead of the standard set by the Biden administration.
There will not be enough supply to meet pent up demand from younger adults to get their vaccines immediately when eligibility opens in mid-April, cautioned Dr. Umair Shah, the secretary of the Washington State Department of Health. However, the federal government has increased the number of weekly vaccines delivered to the state and is likely to be able to further expand supply in May.
“While we are pleased and excited that we can open to everyone above the age of 16 on April 15, we also recognize that we have vaccine supply that continues to be a challenge for all of us,” Shah said. “That supply is something we’re continuing working with the federal administration on and the governor has done a lot from his seat to get more vaccine into the state of Washington.”
As many as 400,000 doses arrived in Washington the week of March 29, and the state is administering 54,000 shots per day, exceeding its goal of 45,000 doses. The number of doses arriving in the state is expected to drop to 345,000 and 368,000 in the following two weeks, and the state will not be getting doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
According to the New York Times, 15 million doses of that vaccine were “ruined by human error” when workers conflated ingredients from it and the AstraZeneca vaccine several weeks ago.
The doses that do arrive in the state are not going to waste, Inslee said, even in some rural areas that have seen less enthusiasm for the shot.
For those who want to find vaccine appointments in their areas, the State has launched a new vaccine-locator website.
Inslee expressed concern about the 28% of people above the age of 65 who have not received any vaccinations, however. That population faces a unique danger of dying from the virus compared to younger age groups — according to State data, those aged 65 to 79 accounted for 34% of deaths, and those aged 80 and above accounted for 50% of deaths.
And cases in the state have been rising.
“These are folks who are more exposed than they were a few weeks ago to this virus,” Inslee said and encouraged younger people to take their grandparents on a “family outing” to get the shot.
In King County, cases appeared to have largely plateaued at the end of February and beginning of March before seeing a steady increase through the rest of the month.
Washington State has the seventh lowest fatality rate in the United States, which Inslee attributes not just to the vaccine but also to continued efforts to practice basic public safety such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings.
Residents’ actions have saved as many as 7,000 to 15,000 lives, Shah said.
State officials are concerned that another spike will hit after normal gatherings such as spring break, springtime religious holidays, and March Madness parties have taken place.
“I want to remind everyone to be emotionally together but physically apart,” Shah said, before dancing dangerously close to rooting against Gonzaga when the team goes up against the University of Houston, the city he previously called home.
“Doctor I’m sure you will try to minister to the Houston fans in their sorrow in their forthcoming defeat,” Inslee replied.
Ashley Archibald is a freelance journalist with previous work in Real Change, the Santa Monica Daily Press, and the Union Democrat. Her work focuses on policy and economic development, and you can find it in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX, and the Urbanist.
Featured Image: Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during a 2019 event in Olympia, Wash. (Photo attributed to the Flickr account of Governor Jay & First Lady Trudi Inslee.)
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