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Gov. Inslee: ‘We want people to get vaccines, not just be eligible for them’

A patient receives a COVID-19 vaccination on Feb. 4, 2021 in Federal Way, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

President Biden has ordered governors to declare all U.S. adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1. Some states are doing so weeks ahead of that date, but Washington is unlikely to be one of them.

“I doubt that we would advance that eligibility into early April,” Gov. Inslee said Thursday.

Vaccine eligibility in Washington expands again March 31

The governor says the state is working to vaccinate the folks who are most at risk today first, which are people who have comorbidities, essential workers, including teachers, grocery store workers, and agricultural workers, as well as older residents.

“We need these people to be able to get their vaccine,” Inslee said.

So while Washington does expect to have every adult eligible on May 1 to meet the federal directive, it looks unlikely that the expansion would come much before then.

“Now in answering this question, it’s kind of a trick question because governors look great when they just say ‘everybody’s eligible for the vaccine,'” Inslee said. “But it’s one thing to be eligible for that vaccine and it’s another to actually be able to get it. So just because a governor says ‘I’ve opened this [to be] available to everybody,’ it doesn’t mean he or she has delivered it to people.”

“We want people to get vaccines, not just be eligible for them,” he added.

Gov. Inslee did not entirely rule out the possibility for an earlier expansion, however, which he says could happen if the vaccination rate increases dramatically.

“And the more people get in to get these vaccines, the faster we’ll get there, to get to that level,” he said.

As to why the state is using the prioritization system for vaccinations, Gov. Inslee said it’s to save as many lives as possible. He also added later that it helps to limit frustration because it provides a rational distribution system.

“The reason we have prioritization is to save as many lives as possible, and to help people whose jobs have necessitated them being exposed in congregate settings,” he explained. “And so we want to save as many lives as possible, … and the way to do that, obviously, is to vaccinate the people who are most subject to this disease. These have been folks of age, and now of comorbidities.”

“We obviously did our health workers, and we’re doing now our essential workers, including grocery store workers, agriculture workers, teachers, and emergency folks, and child care workers,” he continued. “We’re trying to have a rational approach in a very difficult circumstance.”

With seven million Washingtonians in the state, more than five million of whom are adults eligible for the vaccine, there are just not enough doses for everyone at this point.

“I think this is the only rational approach, is to make very hard prioritization decisions based on how we can save the most Washingtonians’ lives,” Inslee said. “Now that approach has been effective so far. As you know, we have one of the lower mortality rates in the United States. And this science based approach demonstrably has saved hundreds of thousands of people, considering all of our COVID response relative to other states.”

“I do want to tell you how important this is too. Look, we’ve got people who’ve had double lung transplants, who have cancer, who have immunosuppression, who have any number of these morbidities that does put them at a significantly greater risk,” he said in response to another question about prioritization. “And I just have to believe that most Washingtonians believe that those people ought to be the next in line, so to speak, to get this live-saving drug.”

“And if you quote ‘open it up to everybody,’ that means somebody who has had a double lung transplant doesn’t get it,” he added.

Inslee says if it was a free for all on day one, there would have been a lot more frustration.

“If I had gone out day one and said ‘everybody, you just go fight for the vaccine,’ and we had seven million people fighting for vaccine on the first day, it would have been very frustrating to people with no efficiency whatsoever,” he said. “So that is an additional reason that we think these tiers make sense — to save lives and have a rational distribution system.”

“We need to look at this with an ounce of compassion and heartfelt love for those who are most at risk, and that’s what we’re doing in the state of Washington.”

State Department of Health expects boost of COVID vaccine doses per week in April

The good news is that the state is moving through its tiered system quicker than originally thought.

“I’m very pleased we’re now moving through these tranches at the pace we are,” Inslee said. “Again, I want to reiterate, this is much faster than we thought we were being able to get this life-saving drug, first to those who need it most.”

Every person getting a vaccine, Inslee said, is not only protecting their own life, but is helping to protect the community as a whole. There will be some hesitation, he admitted, but he believes as people see their friends and relatives getting the vaccine, not having adverse effects, not getting COVID, that more people will be confident in getting vaccinated.

“I think confidence will build over time. We’re already starting to see that,” he said.

Find out if you’re eligible with the state Department of Health’s Phase Finder tool. Use the state’s Vaccine Locator to find a vaccine near you. 

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