Washington state has moved to its next vaccination phase as the country hits the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first case of COVID-19 in the nation happened in Everett in January 2020.
“Today is the one-year anniversary of the first documented case of COVID in the United States, and as you know it was right here in Snohomish County,” said County Executive Dave Somers during a Jan. 19 press briefing.
“A lot has happened in that year and we are continuing to stay focused on keeping our healthcare system functioning,” he said.
Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said it was a stressful time for the district.
“We were shocked and had a lot of anxiety based on what we were hearing from overseas,” he said.
An individual who had returned from China was quarantined after an Everett clinician sent specimens by plane to the CDC in Atlanta, which turned out positive for COVID-19.
“We spent the rest of that day and evening, well into the night-time hours, here at the health district in calls with the Department of Health and the CDC,” said Spitters.
At that point the disease was only known to the U.S. through news reports.
“It was a little overwhelming. It was a brand new disease that we heard was causing widespread illness way over what the system had capacity for,” said Spitters.
Many of those initial worries turned out to be justified, he said.
“Much of that anxiety and concern was well founded,” said Spitters.
Over the past year, Spitters has been amazed at how fast testing supplies and vaccines have been developed for COVID-19.
“Vaccine distribution at this scale is a first for our lifetimes,” he said.
For vaccinations, Washington state officials announced they would move into phase 1B1, which will allow those age 65 or older to get vaccinated, as well as those who are 50 years or older in a multi-generational household.
Snohomish County has about 120,000 individuals who are 65 or older. The second population is harder to estimate, but Spitters said it is probably between 20,000 to 40,000 people.
However, the county does still have a limited supply of vaccines.
“We don’t have the vaccines to give out today, so it’s not like people who are 1B1 eligible can jump in and get an appointment tomorrow,” said Spitters.
“I find it frustrating we’re having to fight for extra doses each week,” said Somers.
In the previous week Somers said the county had received 2,300 doses.
“We complained about it and were able to receive an extra 1,000 from another county, but 3,300 is far below the capacity we have stood up [to deliver the vaccine],” he said. “I know the state is not getting an adequate supply either, so I understand the complexities."
The Health District now has three vaccination sites up in Everett, Edmonds and the Monroe Fairgrounds.
“If we had the vaccine supply, we could ramp up to 50,000 doses or more in our sites,” said Somers.
While some vaccinations will take place through normal healthcare providers, such as clinics and hospitals, Spitters said they are not set-up for a mass-vaccination event.
“Primary care is an opportunity, but it’s not going to afford high throughput,” he said.
“I imagine a month from now we’ll have even more [public vaccination sites] than we have now,” he said.
The district may also consider mobile or stand-up clinics to get out to harder-to-reach populations, he said.
Spitters encourages people to not call their healthcare provider about vaccination unless they are able to get one currently.
“If you’re not yet eligible, please do not contact your healthcare provider. They are overwhelmed right now,” he said. “Please don’t try to play the system or jump the line. If you jump forward out of place and succeed, you’re pushing someone else backwards."
In the meantime, he also urges individuals to continue maintaining distance, wearing masks and washing hands.
The phased vaccination system is necessary because the county does not have unlimited vaccine supply or the capacity to deliver to everyone at once, said Spitters.
“Where people currently end in the prioritization is not a reflection of their value to society,” he said.
Washington state officials expect the next phases to begin in the spring and summer.
Phase 1B2 includes critical workers who are 50 years or older and work in a setting with other people. Phase 1B3 will allow people age 16 or older who have two or more underlying conditions that put them at greater risk to get vaccinated.
Phase 1B4 targets critical workers under the age of 50 who work in a setting with other people.