SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington state is officially in Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan but many providers in Spokane County are struggling to schedule appointments for eligible patients just days after the announcement.
Governor Jay Inslee announced on Monday that Phase 1B would be expanded to people ages 65 and older after previously including people over the age of 70. This tier also includes people who are over 50 years old and live in multigenerational households.
Providers in the Spokane area are receiving "thousands of calls" about the vaccine, Interim Health Officer Dr. Frank Velasquez said during a media briefing on Tuesday. But a backlog is complicating efforts to move ahead in the distribution process.
"We have been building up capacity in anticipation of the larger number of people that will need to be immunized and the larger number of vaccine doses that will be coming in the future," Velasquez said. "You may be qualified right now, [but] there may or may not be a vaccine available for you immediately."
Primary care providers, pharmacies and Health Maintenance Organizations in the Spokane area will distribute COVID-19 vaccines that are available.
MultiCare, for example, has sent out a notification to patients saying they can check their eligibility online, then schedule a vaccination appointment if they are eligible. Safeway also has an online portal where people can sign up to be notified of when they're eligible so they can then schedule an appointment online.
Providence Health Care is also hosting a three-day vaccine clinic at Holy Family Hospital in Spokane beginning to reach people in Phase 1B but the appointments are already filled. The clinic begins on Thursday, Jan. 21.
Some KREM 2 viewers who are eligible in Phase 1B said providers have told them they do not have coronavirus vaccines or appointments. The Spokane Regional Health District has fielded similar calls, said COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force leader Kayla Myers.
The backlog in vaccinating those who are eligible in Phase 1B stems from Phase 1A individuals who are still signing up for available appointments, Myers said. Phase 1A includes high-risk health care workers and first responders, residents and staff of nursing homes, and all other workers at risk in health care settings.
"They [providers] have 1A individuals waiting and filling up those appointment slots, and that's who they're taking care of," Myers said. "And as soon as we can get a majority of them taken care of, there should be more messaging going out to the public about how they could access vaccine."
There are individual sites that allow people who are eligible in Phase 1B to sign up for remaining appointments but this is not a "consistent opportunity," Myers said. She was unable to provide an estimated date for when more providers could begin vaccinating Phase 1B patients.
Several other factors are contributing to the backlog in vaccine distribution, including efforts to follow phase guidance and monitoring periods.
Spokane County and Washington state have also been enforcing the 15-minute monitoring period for those who receive the vaccine, Myers said. People with allergic reactions to medication are monitored for 30 minutes.
"That can kind of create a lag or...they [providers] don't have the ability to have a lot of appointments. So it's mainly a safety aspect that we really prioritize over speed," Myers said.