LOCAL NEWS

State doesn’t think April 15 eligibility will create unmanageable backup

Apr 2, 2021, 5:08 AM | Updated: 6:31 am
COVID vaccine, UW Medicine, April 15...
Seattle Fire Department paramedic Alan Goto, right, receives one of the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Health leaders in Washington don’t expect the COVID-19 vaccine scheduling system to be overwhelmed when all adults are eligible on April 15.

State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said during a briefing Thursday that they’ve been preparing for months with federal and local partners, and should be ready to handle the increase in vaccine appointments.

Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for the state’s COVID response, noted that unlike a concert going on sale on a certain date, where everyone needs to get a ticket at the same time, not every would-be vaccine recipient needs to get an appointment the first day; more and more vaccine slots will open up by providers each day and each week.

“It’s not, ‘Everything goes live at midnight,'” she said. “They’re adding appointments throughout the week.”

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She suggested that if you don’t see an appointment the first time you look, try checking again the next day, or the day after.

Michele Roberts, assistant secretary for Prevention and Community Health, said most providers usually make appointments available about a week at a time.

She pointed out that the April 15 group will only bring in a little over a million new people, a much smaller group than the one that is eligible so far.

“It’s the final group that’s opening on April 15, it’s not opening up to 6 million people on that day,” she said. “Five million are already included.”

Shipments coming in from the federal government have been growing to meet that increased demand, with just a 28,000-dose gap between what providers asked for and what was sent this week. In previous weeks, that gap was 100,000 or more. This week, the state is getting more than 412,000 doses, and Shah said that is only expected to bump up in the coming weeks.

Still, he said, supply does remain an issue, and it will mean that not every adult becoming eligible April 15 will get a shot right away. He asked people to temper their eagerness for a dose of the vaccine with a dose of patience.

“We want people to recognize that there isn’t enough supply,” he emphasized. “It’s not going to magically open up on April 15.”

Shah also asked that young adults make sure their older or immuno-compromised relatives and friends get appointments before they schedule their own.

“If I’m a younger person and I don’t have any health conditions, but I’ve got my aunt, she’s older, she’s got a couple of health conditions, and I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to get her set up with an appointment or if I’m going to do myself, we’re going to ask you to get your aunt vaccinated,” he said. “These are the micro decisions on the ground we want people to recognize.”

It’s also possible that the clinics and pharmacies offering the vaccine may still choose to schedule people from the first four tiers who have not yet gotten their shot over the incoming group of younger, less-at-risk adults.

“They were in those groups for a reason, they were in those groups because we were concerned about risk. … Our providers are also holding some of those appointment slots for certain populations, certain groups, and they also can prioritize within their systems as they feel appropriate,” he said.

The reason the state decided to move up the all-adults date from May 1 to two weeks earlier was because health leaders did not want to run into a situation where the supply outpaced the demand, with thousands of extra vaccine doses and no one eligible to receive them.

“As the supply all of a sudden really increases — I’m anticipating that will likely be in the May timeframe — what we don’t want to have happen is that we are all of a sudden trying to catch up on the eligibility side,” Shah explained.

To find vaccine availability near you, visit the Department of Health’s vaccine locator page.

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State doesn’t think April 15 eligibility will create unmanageable backup