The number of those living in Washington state able to receive doses of available COVID-19 vaccines will reach an almost-universal proportion as Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all those over 16 years old will be eligible for vaccination April 15.
During a press conference March 31, the governor noted that some 2 million more Washingtonians became eligible for their doses and announced the next phasing-in of vaccinations in the middle of the coming month, which will bring the entire adult population of the state into eligibility.
Inslee noted that the latest phase of vaccination eligibility comes four months after Washington began vaccinating individuals, during which time some 3.3 million doses have been administered in the state, with more than 1 million Washingtonians fully vaccinated.
Inslee said that increase in eligibility was possible due to an increase in doses the state has been able to allocate. Washington State Health Secretary Umair Shah said the state started with around 12,000 to 13,000 doses daily with a goal to reach 45,000 a day;.Now there are 54,000 doses administered daily.
“That is just a testament to all of our partners on the ground and all of our efforts in local communities,” Shah said.
Those eligible on April 15 must wait until then to begin scheduling for appointments, Shah said, which has been the case for prior phases. He noted that for those unable to access online methods for scheduling, such as at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, the state has a hotline at 1-800-525-0127, which includes multiple languages.
Inslee acknowledged that some states in the U.S. have fast-tracked their eligibility for vaccinations, with Washington moving slowly to bring more people into the fold. He pointed to recent analysis from nonprofit health data organization Surgo Ventures, which showed states that increased eligibility generally fared worse in being able to administer doses as a proportion of their population.
“That research shows that a more methodical, priority-based strategy, ones like what we have done in Washington, could be a more effective strategy than simply having everyone fight each other to the gates on day one,” Inslee said.
While all adults in Washington will become eligible April 15, Inslee said he was worried about the “very exposed position” of those over 65 years old who still have not received the vaccine.
That group was in one of the earliest phases to be eligible to receive the vaccine, though the governor said that 28 percent of those individuals remained unvaccinated.
“These are folks who have had now three full months to obtain the vaccine,” Inslee said, something he saw as “really disturbing … because we know this vaccine is extremely successful (and) this remains a fatal disease.”
“It is a dangerous situation not to be vaccinated, particularly if you are over 65,” Inslee said.
He asked for other members of the community to have a conversation with their family members in that age group who have not yet received the shots in order to get them vaccinated.
“I just can’t stand the thought that in the next two months, we’ll be losing folks that we can save with a simple vaccination,” Inslee said.
Both Inslee and Shah warned of what the governor called a “disturbing uptick” in COVID-19 activity in Washington, something the health secretary said was occurring nationwide. In order to avoid a rollback of the easing of prior restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the disease, “we need to do everything we can to keep these numbers down, now,” the governor said.
Shah also cautioned that the state still had a ways to go before COVID-19 was completely under control and the threat of a resurgence of the disease was quashed, acknowledging that ongoing vaccination work would be key to keeping any return to the height of the pandemic at bay.
“It’s not just the four months of where we’ve been, it’s the four months of where we’re going,” Shah said.
Acknowledging both religious holidays and the NCAA Final Four happening around the time of the press conference, the health secretary asked Washington residents to celebrate responsibly given that COVID-19 was still a threat.
“I just want to remind everyone to be emotionally together, yet physically apart,” Shah said.
When asked point-blank when he would declare Washington’s state of emergency over, Inslee said that time could still not be determined.
“What we do know is that we’ve made great progress in this fight against COVID, and we do know that we have the tools to fight, and if we all use those tools, we’re going to save a lot of lives,” Inslee said.