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Pierce County Exec calls on Inslee to expand vaccine eligibility early after Phase 2 rollback

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center, talks to East Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Bud Backer, left, and Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

In the wake of Pierce, Cowlitz, and Whitman counties rolling back to Phase 2 of reopening, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier issued a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday, urging him to immediately expand vaccine eligibility.

Local leaders react with three counties rolled back to Phase 2

Vaccine eligibility in Washington expands to everyone over the age of 16 on Thursday, April 15. Given the rising COVID-19 case rates in Pierce County that led to its move back to Phase 2, though, Dammeier is looking to get residents vaccinated at a faster rate and, in turn, drive local case rates down quickly.

Dammeier told KIRO Radio on Monday that he believes Pierce County has been “shorted vaccines” by the state, pointing out that the county’s population “is 6% less vaccinated than the state average, and almost 10% behind King County.”

Given that, the Pierce County Executive is also asking Gov. Inslee to increase the county’s allotment of vaccines by 15,000 doses a week, “until it at least catches up to the state average.”

“Pierce County and its partners have demonstrated their ability to put shots in arms as quickly as they get supplies, and I am confident they will continue to do so,” Dammeier said in his letter to the governor.

Despite Dammeier’s request, Gov. Inslee has made no indication that he plans to move up Thursday’s expansion of eligibility. Addressing concerns that the newly-enacted pause on use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could lead to delays, the governor noted Tuesday that the state is “still opening up eligibility for all who want it on April 15.”

Inslee also responded to Dammeier’s claims regarding vaccine distribution, noting that Pierce County “has received approximately 97 percent of its expected doses.”

“This translates to a total shortage of 7,401 doses across the full 18 weeks of vaccination since the first doses arrived in Washington,” he said in a letter addressed to the county executive.

Ross: No more going backwards and shutting down what’s open

Dammeier is among a group of leaders across all three counties falling back to Phase 2 who have been vocal in their opposition to the move. On Tuesday, state Sen. Jeff Wilson (R-Longview) criticized the process for “creating fear,” and affording outsized power to the governor’s office.

In order to remain in Phase 3, large counties need to have 200 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks and five or fewer hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over the past week.

The state Department of Health will reevaluate data again in three weeks, although Dammeier says he will petition the governor to allow Pierce County to move back into Phase 3 the moment it meets the required metrics.

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