There is one message in Snohomish County’s latest COVID briefing update Tuesday: “We have the capacity to administer 50,000 shots a week, but we don’t have the vaccine.”
Reporters heard, “we don’t have the vaccine,” time after time during the briefing from Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters and Department of Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann. This week, the county expects to get just 15,000 vaccine doses for all the mass inoculation sites as well as pharmacies and other health care providers. That is several thousand doses less than the county got last week.
“We have heard the frustration around the lack of appointments and the scheduling system,” Biermann said. “We are not scheduling appointments until there is vaccine available. We did not want to put people in the position of waiting in a long line, only to find out we had run out and would have to send them away.”
Spitters admitted that people are frustrated “trying to find the ‘golden ticket’ for the vaccine.” But he said the county does not control its own destiny; that all county agencies are “working together to improve what is in our control.” The state health department distributes only what the federal government sends. “We share and send those frustrations to the state and federal level” several times a day, Spitters said.
Will the vaccine protect those who receive it from the variants showing up from the U.K. and South Africa?
Spitters said the vaccines appear to offer protection from the U.K. strain, and doctors will know more about how well the vaccine works on the South Africa strain as more people get their shots.
Should teachers be moved up to get their shots earlier?
Spitters said he does not think so; that the current vaccination plan addresses those who need the vaccine first — first responders, medical staff, those over age 70 and over 50 who live in multigenerational homes. Schools are showing only a few clusters of cases and most report scattered single cases; that is not a reason, he added, to move up the teachers, although he understands their frustration
What if I can’t get my second dose in the suggested time?
That, said Spitters, should not be a problem. He added that even one dose provides greater protection; “you are not hanging out there unprotected.”
What should the county do to pressure the state and feds for more vaccine?
Spitters said the county is reminding the state of its needs “several times a day,” adding: “We have to work with what we get; it is not helpful for me to Monday-morning quarterback what they have done.”
Current State Department of Health data shows that 70% of the doses delivered have been administered throughout Washington. The other 30% (about 170,000 doses) have been delivered but not administered; the state data does not say why. The statewide goal is 45,000 shots a day; right now, the average is 28,000 a day. In Snohomish County, according to state figures, vaccine doses given average 649 per 10,000 residents. That ranks the county 33rd of 39 counties — far behind King and Pierce counties.
It is not for a lack of vaccine sites. The county now has four drive-thru inoculation locations: Edmonds College, Paine Field (Everett), the Monroe Fairgrounds and Arlington Airport. It has a fifth site ready to at Boom City on the Tulalip Reservation, but it has not opened; there is no vaccine. As of Tuesday, the only site open was at Arlington Airport. The Department of Emergency Management is also setting up three walk-in locations for those with mobility issues. They have the staff and equipment to open; but no vaccine. Seattle Visiting Nurses, fire districts and emergency medical services will staff and run those.
Of 15,000 doses allotted to the county this week, 9,000 are for first vaccinations; 6,000 are for those who will get their second shot. In addition to the drive-thru sites, 93 providers are now state-approved throughout the county — Costco, QFC, Walgreens and CVS among them.
Walgreens and CVS are spearheading efforts to get vaccines to long-term care and nursing homes. The county says it is also making some progress getting shots for those in adult care homes; fire district EMS crews have completed shots at 15 of these facilities.
County officials said they are keenly aware of the frustration people have had trying to schedule their second, or booster shot. When the drive-thru sites opened, the focus was to get as many vaccinated as quickly as possible. Emergency management has a new computer program online and by next week, Biermann said, it will schedule first and second shots and establish a “wait list” for those who can’t get immediate vaccination.
On the cusp of Super Bowl weekend, there is more encouraging news: The two-week average of new coronavirus cases has dropped to 184; that’s half of what the rate was just a month ago. Hospitalizations, long-term care cases and deaths are also decreasing. But, Spitters warned: “Don’t let up on prevention,” which includes wearing masks, keeping social distancing and following the rules for Phase Ttwo.
As of Monday, the restrictions have eased. Indoor gatherings are now limited to no more than five people outside your household; outdoor gatherings no more than 15 people from no more than two households. Restaurants may seat people indoors at only 25% capacity; a maximum of six people at the same table with no more than two households per table.
Both Spitters and Biermann said the county is working hard to navigate through all the bumps in the road; that even if everything goes right, it will take up to six months to get everyone vaccinated.
— By Bob Throndsen