Relaxed eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine this week is expected to bring with it a squeeze for appointments and large-scale clinics, the county says.
An estimated 136,000 Thurston County residents will be eligible for the vaccine when eligibility on Thursday, April 15, opens to anyone 16 years of age or older, said COVID-19 information specialist Magen Johnson.
That’s expected to bring with it longer lines and waitlists for vaccine providers.
“We do anticipate the number of people who are eligible will far outpace the number of appointments we will have,” Johnson said. “Our efforts are to make sure that everyone that wants to get vaccinated is able to get vaccinated. It’s just going to take us some time to get to everyone.”
As of Monday evening, providers in Thurston County had administered approximately 153,623 doses of vaccine with 22.32 percent of residents fully vaccinated. Half of all doses administered so far have also occurred within the last month, marking a testament to the county’s escalated vaccination efforts.
The wider eligibility also comes as U.S. health experts on Tuesday called for providers to cease use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration, said they were investigating unusual blood clots in six women.
More than 7 million people in the U.S. have been administered the one-dose shot, and about 149,000 Washingtonians have administered it.
The state Department of Health on Tuesday also said they would cease distribution of the J&J vaccine. So far, it’s not believed any Washington state residents have experienced these side effects.
“This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution based on the appearance of a rare, but serious side effect including serious brain blood clots (CVST) combined with low platelet counts in six patients, all women under 50,” the Department of Health said in a news release. “The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will review these cases in the days ahead and will recommend guidance going forward.”
The risk of complications for those who received the vaccine more than a month ago are very low, the Department of Health says.
Washington state has received about 5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and only about 6 percent of the state’s allocation are Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Secretary of Health Umair Shah said the state is currently looking at the impacts this pause will have on local clinics administering them.
Locally, Tim’s Pharmacy and Yelm Community Schools had planned on hosting a second Johnson & Johnson vaccination clinic at the high school this weekend, though that plan has been put on pause.
But even before the hold, local pharmacies and administrators noted that demand for the vaccine had ebbed and flowed as phases of eligibility rolled out.
Will Quinby, owner of Tim’s Pharmacy and Gift Shop, which has largely administered Moderna shots aside from their drive-through clinics hosted alongside the school district, said there’s been an increase in interest locally to receive the vaccine.
“As more becomes available, we anticipate more people looking for it,” Quinby said. “I think within the last week or so, there’s been an uptick in the people requesting the vaccine as they hear eligibility open up.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines the business receives each week varies, Quinby said. The last couple of weeks, Tim’s Pharmacy has focused on getting people their second doses of the vaccine. Their pharmacy receives anywhere from 200 to 400 doses a week.
“We want to be available to people. We know that not everyone is going to want to get the vaccine, but we want to be available to people. … That’s our goal, is to be positioned as a resource for our community,” Quinby said.
Johnson said residents in the county should follow the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services’ social media accounts and check the website as demand for the vaccine increases.
“People can call our public health phone number, 360-867-2610, and that’s for people who are having barriers of access to the internet. We encourage people to help others in their community that need it,” Johnson said.
Thurston County is also looking for volunteers to help with their vaccination clinics. Events, which the county’s been hosting on a near-daily basis, usually require 90 to 100 volunteers. Interested community members can learn more and sign up to volunteer online through the United Way of Thurston County at www.unitedway-thurston.org/covid19.