Hurdles persist as Washington state plans for mass vaccination sites

On the anniversary of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States, Washington state health officials said Thursday they are plowing ahead with plans to open four mass vaccination sites next week, despite logistical concerns that include questions about vaccine supply.

"When things move fast, nothing is perfect," Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the state Department of Health, said during an online news briefing.

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Shah acknowledged leaders could face criticism for launching the mass vaccination sites on Monday without knowing when to expect a jump in vaccine shipments from the federal government. The state’s hospitals have warned that having to cancel appointments due to a lack of supply would frustrate patients and undermine trust in the system.

But Shah said it’s crucial to build the state’s vaccination capacity as quickly as possible. Washington is aiming to triple its current pace of administering the vaccines from about 15,000 a day to 45,000 a day; as of early this week the state had administered slightly less than half of the vaccination doses it had received.

Shah said states are asking President Joe Biden’s administration for earlier and more reliable predictions on vaccine supply deliveries. Biden has set a goal of having 100 million doses administered nationwide in his first 100 days in office.

"We have high hopes for new, effective federal leadership in the fight against COVID-19," Shah said.

The mass vaccination sites include Spokane Arena, the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick, the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee and the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield. Some or all will be staffed by the National Guard, but other details remain unanswered, including whether they will be first-come, first-served; how people will make appointments if not; and whether they will be drive-through or walk-up.

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"We are working through all those plans," Shah said.

Shah said his department planned a moment of silence at noon Thursday to mark the anniversary of the announcement of the first case of the virus in the United States, which was in a Washington state resident.