OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington has seen a slowdown in demand for COVID-19 vaccines, leading the state on Thursday to adjust the way it is allocating supply to ensure more doses are being sent to areas where demand is highest.
"It is a terrible thing to think we would have vaccine to save people’s lives and not see it in people’s arms," Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference, where he warned of coronavirus variants that are leading to an increase in cases and hospitalizations.
All state residents over age 16 have been eligible for a coronavirus vaccination since April 15. As of Thursday, more than 5.2 million doses of vaccine have been administered and nearly 30% of the state has been fully vaccinated.
Previously, the state Department of Health allocated doses to counties proportionally based on their population. Now, allocation decisions will be based on health care provider requests, in addition to population size of counties.
"We still will be making sure that there’s access to vaccines all across the geography of Washington," said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy director for COVID-19 response for the Department of Health. "But we will be doing this more demand-based system and making sure that vaccines get to communities where they’re needed and where they’re going to be used in the next week or so."
Inslee said that the state is up against a fourth surge that "is very dangerous, that has the capacity to overwhelm our hospitals as these number continue to rise."
"At the moment the thing that has the capability of breaking this rise is increasing vaccination rates," he said.
Next week, several of the state’s 39 counties will learn if their case counts and hospitalization rates will lead to tighter restrictions for businesses and gatherings. The state evaluates the metrics in counties every three weeks.
Currently, three counties are in Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan, which currently has three stages. Phase 2 has decreased capacity for indoor dining at restaurants, retail stores and gyms from 50% to 25%. Phase 1 is the most restrictive, including no indoor dining at restaurants allowed.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health will issue a decision based on the criteria, in which counties are moved back if their numbers exceed set amounts in both metrics.
Larger counties must have less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period and fewer than five new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a one-week period in order to be in Phase 3. In order to not roll back to Phase 1, they can’t exceed 350 new cases per 100,000 people and must have fewer than 10 new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people in that same time range.
Seventeen smaller counties — Klickitat, Asotin, Pacific, Adams, San Juan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Lincoln, Ferry, Wahkiakum, Columbia, Kittitas, Stevens, Douglas, Okanogan, Jefferson, and Garfield — must have fewer than 100 new cases over a two-week period and fewer than 3 new COVID hospitalizations over a one-week period in order to avoid going to Phase 2, and fewer than 175 new cases and less than five new COVID hospitalization in that same time range to avoid going into Phase 1.
There have been more than 372,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus another 29,000 "probable" cases — in Washington state, and 5,487 deaths.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.