‘Supply has slowed to a trickle’: Snohomish Health District provides update on vaccine distribution

A drive-thru vaccination site at Paine Field. (Photo courtesy Snohomish Health District)

While approximately 150,000 more Snohomish County residents are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine under the state’s Jan. 18 announcement of expanded eligibility to Phase 1b1, the Snohomish Health District says that vaccine supplies “are extremely limited.” And that means appointments are booked for local providers as well as county-sponsored sites.

“This clearance for us to move ahead to vaccinate our older adults in the community is good news, but we sadly don’t yet have 150,000 vaccines to give out today,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “While we currently have the capacity to give at least 30,000 doses per week, vaccine supplies are extremely limited and nowhere near where we need them to be to achieve that speed. That means we need people to balance perseverance with patience as the vaccine supply ramps up, appointments become more available, and they wait for their turn in line.”

Phase 1b1 eligibility includes residents 65 years or older, as well as those who are 50 or older and living in a household with multiple generations. Those eligible in multigenerational households are defined as:

  1. People who are over the age of 50 AND are not able to live independently who either:
    1. are receiving long-term care from a paid or unpaid caregiver, or
    2. are living with someone who works outside the home
  2. People who are over the age of 50 AND are living with and caring for a grandchild

No one under age 50 is eligible, and no one over age 50 caring for a partner, friend, or child (except a grandchild) is eligible.

More than 25,000 Snohomish County residents have received their first dose in the first five weeks, but vaccine supply has slowed to a trickle, the health district said. Snohomish County received just over 3,000 doses during the past week, with close to 200,000 people eligible under Phase 1a and 1b1 vying for limited slots for their first or second dose. This has led to local providers, as well as the Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce’s sites, to be quickly booked out.

Appointments will be added for the county’s drive-thru sites when supplies are available. People should not show up at a site unless they have an appointment, regardless of eligibility. They advise those seeking vaccines to continue monitoring the websites every couple of days:

Eligible individuals are also encouraged to contact their health care provider, clinic or local pharmacy to determine what their availability and scheduling plans are. However, it is expected to take one to three months to work through Phase 1b1. People will get appointments for their shots, but it will take time, the health district said.

“It’s also important to understand that where people currently land in the prioritization and phases is not a reflection on their value in this community,” added Dr. Spitters. “If we had unlimited vaccine supply and clinical capacity to administer the vaccine, prioritization would not be necessary. But neither of those are the case.”

This is why, until vaccines start flowing into Washington and Snohomish County at a higher and more predictable pace, there is a need to prioritize the limited capacity not necessarily toward those at higher risk of acquiring COVID, but rather for those most likely to become severely ill, require hospitalization, and/or die if they get infected, the health district said.

From the health district announcement:

These phases and tiers reflect the work of multidisciplinary teams working at both the federal and state level to maximize societal benefits, support essential functions of society, and address inequities in access to services. This work has involved medical scientists, social scientists, ethicists and outreach to community stakeholders.

The goal is to get everyone vaccinated and keep them safe as soon as feasible. Everyone is working toward that goal every day, but the first order of business is to defuse the threat of an overwhelming hospital surge.

While waiting for your turn, here are four things you can do to help:

  1. Go to FindYourPhaseWA.org to see if you’re eligible for Phase 1a or 1b1. If you aren’t, you can sign up to be notified when your phase opens.
  2. Please don’t try to jump the line. If you hear of a place with vaccines, let people who are eligible know.
  3. When it’s time for you to get a vaccine, register, and keep your appointment.
  4. Do the three W’s:  Wear a Mask, Wash your Hands, Watch your distance.

Just as supplies are extremely limited for people trying to get their first dose, similar challenges are the case for those needing their second dose, the health district said. Health care providers may need to postpone or cancel appointments if vaccine supplies do not arrive as expected. Others may not yet be scheduling appointments for the second dose yet because the supplies are so limited and unpredictable.

According to federal guidelines, individuals should receive two doses of the Moderna vaccine at least 28 days apart and 21 days apart for the Pfizer vaccine. These are considered the minimum intervals or amount of time needed to separate the two doses, but there is no maximum or cut-off. It is recommended that doses be given as close to that 21 or 28 days as possible, but people should not be concerned about the two-dose series’ efficacy if the second dose is delayed by a few weeks.

The Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce is working on a process to register people for their second dose to ensure the brand of vaccine currently offered matches what an individual received for their first dose. It is not recommended to mix brands, such as Moderna for the first dose and Pfizer for the second, unless absolutely necessary.

The health district is encouraging people to wait until they are closer to their 21- or 28-day mark before seeking to schedule an appointment for the second dose. In the meantime, people need to save the immunization card received during their first dose appointment. If possible, take a photo or scan a copy to have just in case the original is lost. Also know which brand of vaccine that was originally received and ask the vaccine provider if they are giving the same brand of vaccine.

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