Big changes are coming on March 31 for scheduling COVID-19 vaccine shots. On Wednesday, the state will no longer require “proof of eligibility” for vaccinations. It is dropping the Phase Finder tool. State health officials say it is “no longer practical for the vaccine task force to perform spot checks” when people show up for their first-dose appointments. County officials know that some people will “jump the line” now to get vaccinated sooner. They hope most will follow the rules and wait for their age group to be eligible. As of May 1, all adults throughout the state will be eligible for vaccine.
At the same time, the COVID-19 virus roller coaster is taking Snohomish County on another dizzying spin. Coronavirus case numbers are going “exactly the wrong direction,” County Executive Dave Somers told reporters in this week’s Tuesday briefing. Somers and Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters agreed they are “extremely concerned” about that trend.
The two-week average of new cases, which dropped to 70 a few weeks ago, has now climbed back to 92 per 100,000 residents. “I do not want to see a rollback,” Somers said, noting that we have only been open in Phase 3 for a week. Twenty-five other states also report increased case rates.
Both officials warned that as people head into Easter weekend, not enough people are vaccinated to “stem the tide” of new cases. “We’re so close,” added Spitters; “just a few months away from putting the emergency situation behind us. It’s premature to cash in on safety now.”
The Snohomish County Office of Social Justice said it is working to cut through obstacles for those who do not have access to technology, or have transportation, cultural or language barriers. “People of color have been disproportionally affected” by COVID, the office’s co-lead Alessandra Durham said during the briefing.
Durham told reporters that the county is working with several hundred members of minority groups to create community-based vaccine programs. Durham said they will launch in the next couple of weeks. Those programs will also explain the vaccine, and offer transportation and help setting up shots.
She revealed several instances where local pharmacies have charged people of color high administrative fees to give them shots. She did not name the pharmacies. We’ve had “experiences of people being told there is a rate of $80 or $100” for them to get the vaccine. She told reporters that the Office of Social Justice is telling pharmacies that’s wrong. There may be a fee, she added, but for those with insurance, that fee is paid by their coverage. There is no cost to people without insurance. “We want to make sure,” she said, “that there is equitable access of vaccine.”
For residents 65 and older:
- 70% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are fully vaccinated.
- More than 40% of Blacks, Asians, Native Americans/Alaska Natives and Whites have both doses.
- Hispanic seniors are slightly lower at 38%.
For residents 65 and younger:
- 4% of Hispanics are fully vaccinated.
- 9% of Black residents
- 10% for Whites and Asians
- 13% for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders
- 15% for American Indians or Alaska Natives
The county is still not getting a full allotment of vaccine. This week, it will receive 30,000 to 35,000 doses. Vaccination sites have the capacity to administer 50,000 to 60,000 each week.
Spitters still hopes the county will get more vaccine doses soon. If it does, he thinks everyone who wants a shot can get one in the next two to three months. If the county doesn’t get increased supplies, vaccinations are predicted to drag into September.
— By Bob Throndsen