Washington state’s efforts to vaccinate its population against COVID-19 appears to be growing, as state leaders say that the capacity is there to meet their goals for administering doses, as long as federal allotments increase.
During a Thursday, Feb. 4 press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee said that as of that day more than 770,000 vaccinations had been administered in Washington state, roughly a 10th of the statewide population. He said vaccinations in the state were averaging about 28,000 daily, adding it was about twice the number of daily vaccinations from two weeks ago.
Inslee said that the state has the capacity to vaccinate 45,000 individuals a day, a goal previously set by the state. That rate of vaccination was dependent on having enough supply of the vaccine itself to administer, however, which has proven an issue for Washington as the vaccine has rolled out.
Both the governor and Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah were hopeful that federal allotments would be increasing as time goes on. Shah said mass vaccination sites have been a driver for the state’s ability to meet its goals, noting he and Inslee had visited the site at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield the week before.
“Please have patience,” Shah said. “We know it is difficult right now. … It’s a numbers game in terms of the numbers of vaccines that are coming into the state … but your turn is coming.”
Inslee said the state has made progress in the past few weeks on how many vaccine doses have been administered in Washington based on population compared nationwide, going from 37th place among states and the District of Columbia as of Jan. 19, to 14th as of the day of the press conference.
Washington State Department of Health Deputy Secretary for COVID Response Lacy Fehrenbach said the state had a request approved for mass vaccination efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $550 million, with $274 million upfront. Inslee said that the state was addressing equity in its vaccination process through efforts such as popup vaccination clinics and funding for ample communication to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Inslee said those communication efforts include having information available in 41 different language groups, and have already been funded by $1 million, with an additional $2.3 million expected through June.
The state is also committing to cracking down on preferential vaccinations by healthcare providers who prioritize certain individuals over others to receive their doses, Inslee said. He added the state Department of Health has communicated they will reduce dosages for providers who show such preferences among recipients.
“It’s just wrong to offer special privilege in this regard. Everyone deserves fair access to this vaccine,” Inslee remarked.
Shah said the state has required providers to administer 95 percent of its vaccine allocations within a week, or also face reductions in subsequent allocations of doses. Acknowledging that some providers have already seen those reductions, he said the vast majority of them “have just been fantastic” with administering vaccines according to the state’s schedule.
“We don’t want to be punitive about this. It’s just that we have found some providers don’t have the capability of doing the rate of vaccination that we need,” Inslee later added.
Alongside vaccination efforts, the state has also made moves on reopening of shuttered activities and businesses as a result of Washington’s COVID-19 response, which Inslee acknowledged in the press conference. He addressed criticisms of the state’s “Healthy Washington” program, which has switched to a region-based approach, as opposed to the state’s old county-based reopening plan, remarking there were “10,000 legitimate criticisms” of how the state’s plan has been crafted.
Inslee defended the aspects of “Healthy Washington,” explaining that the decision to have a regionally-based approach was due to the interdependence of hospital systems across county lines, and that basing the phasing-in of reopening on smaller units — such as counties compared to regions — had the potential of nonuniform application. He gave an example of businesses operating close to county lines where one was allowed to reopen and the other was not.
“If you did (reopening) on a countywide basis I can assure you that we would be criticized for that,” Inslee said.
The governor added that the decision to re-evaluate regions eligible to move to the next phase on a two-week basis was acknowledging that in some cases a county might have a “bad week” when it came to the metrics used in determining that progression, both for moving forward a phase and for moving backward if enough metrics aren’t maintained.
Inslee also touched on schools returning to in-person learning for K-12 public education, regarding which he said that 220,000 elementary students in the state have been able to return in some form. The governor said there had been “very minimal” in-school transmission of COVID-19 for districts returning some students to buildings, adding that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Wallensky has backed the type of reopening of schools that Washington state has taken.
“I think what we’re seeing is the justified and understandable concern about safety (for school reopening) early in the pandemic being replaced with confidence-builders of schools and educators and bus drivers and clerks who have demonstrated the ability to use these protocols in a way that is safe,” Inslee said.