State trying to make it easier to get COVID-19 vaccine

Washington is moving to the next phase of vaccine distribution, the state announced Monday.

The Department of Health has expanded access to the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to folks in the first tier of Phase 1B.

The state has made some changes to the criteria in order to help speed up the rate at which the vaccine is distributed. Any resident age 65 or older is now eligible, reducing the previously announced minimum age of 70. Tier 1 of Phase 1B also includes people 50 years and older living in multi-generational houses.

The DOH is also giving flexibility to providers to give the vaccine to those in phase 1B tiers 2 through 4 in order to allow for easier administration of the vaccine in congregate settings and workplaces and to combat waste. Tiers 2 through 4 include all high-risk critical workers in congregate settings — agriculture; food processing; grocery stores; K-12 teachers and staff; child care; corrections, prisons, jails or detention facilities; public transit; fire; and law enforcement — as well as any person 16 or older with two or more comorbidities.

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

State officials acknowledged last week that distribution of the vaccine had been slow. Washington’s new health secretary, Dr. Umair A. Shah, recognized the public is more interested in getting the vaccine than bureaucratic quagmires. 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.

With Monday’s announcement, the state’s goal is to increase distribution to vaccinate 45,000 residents per week once federal allocation reaches that level. Gov. Jay Inslee announced a plan to do so through a new statewide public-private partnership, which includes corporations, labor unions, health care groups and government entities to establish the Washington State Vaccine Command and Coordination Center.

As of Jan. 16, 42.3 percent (294,386) of the 696,075 vaccine doses shipped to Washington had been administered. That’s an increase of about 11 percent of the reported numbers from the prior week, indicating that the pace is quickening.

Find your phase

The state launched a new tool this week to help residents determine when they will be eligible for the vaccine.

To find your phase, visit findyourphasewa.org and fill out the questionnaire. If you are eligible, information will be provided to you, such as where to get the vaccine and a number to call and schedule an appointment. If you are not eligible, you will be able to sign up to receive an email or text message to notify you when you are.

Disease activity

On Jan. 1, Kitsap County had a rate of 183.3 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period. As of Jan. 12, that number had surged to 233.3 per 100,000.

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