SEATTLE - Washington ranks in the bottom half of states when it comes to the percentage of doses used, according to CDC data Wednesday. The state health secretary admitted the vaccine response has been "uneven at best."
The ranking, 26th to be exact, comes as the federal government warns states to speed up the pace of giving vaccines or risk getting fewer doses in the future.
According to CDC data, Washington state has administered about 36% of the doses it has received, a hair above the national average of 35%. But the state ranks in the bottom third when it comes to the percentage of the population vaccinated so far at 2.7%. The national average is 3.1%.
In a media briefing, health officials vowed to do better and more to get vaccines out quicker, and announced plans to open up the next phase in the vaccine order in the coming days.
Phase 1B1 includes all people in the state ages 70 and older and all people ages 50 and older who live in multigenerational households. Despite new federal guidance to immediately open up vaccines to all people ages 65 and older and those of any age with comorbidities, the state so far has not changed its planned phases.
State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said the new guidance gives him pause.
"If you don’t have enough vaccines what you’re doing essentially is opening up - if it’s a queue or a line - you’re making the line longer, but you’re not actually helping people get vaccines because there’s not enough supply," Shah said.
He said he’s calling on the federal government to work harder to get the supply in the hands of states. Despite the federal government vowing not to hold back any vaccines for second doses to speed up and increase delivery, Shah said the state has not seen an increase in expected supply for next week.
"Our speed limit is the number of vaccines on a consistent basis coming into the state," Shah said. "When we do not have that enhanced system, then we do not have the ability to plan for this bigger initiative, because we don’t have enough of that vaccine there."
Health officials said the federal government continues to only give them expected shipments a week in advance. Acting Assistant Secretary Michele Roberts, who is in charge of the COVID-19 vaccine response, said the state has now ramped up to administering roughly the same number of doses per day that the weekly doses would provide, if divided up over seven days.
In Snohomish County, health officials said Tuesday they are on pace to run out of vaccines by the middle of next week if a new shipment does not come in. The county has set up drive-thru sites to vaccinate health care workers in the first phase.
"It sometimes appears as though it’s not happening that quickly but it’s a very targeted group for a very specific reason and that’s to take pressure off of the health care system and to protect those providers," said Snohomish County Emergency Manager Jason Biermann. "So it’s going to roll out slowly knowing that we’re trying to purposefully target a small population at the start."
With a new phase in the state opening soon, Roberts urged health care workers who have yet to be vaccinated to make an appointment right away before the next priority group enters the queue.