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Logistics proving to be biggest challenge for Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Hospitals across Washington state are working to administer as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible, but it's a process that's proven to be slower than expected.

SEATTLE — With the potential of a holiday spike in coronavirus cases around the corner, hospitals across Washington state are working to administer as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible. But it's a process that's proven to be slower than expected.

Last week, numbers from the state Department of Health showed just less than 20% of the 356,000 doses of the vaccine in Washington had been administered. 

Leaders of the Washington State Hospital Association held a media briefing Monday to give an update on the vaccination process and offer a look at how individual hospitals are doing.

Ferry County Memorial Hospital in Republic, Wash., reported having 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine waiting to be used in a freezer and said they're waiting for the go ahead for the second phase of the rollout.

PeaceHealth, which operates five hospitals in Washington state, has administered 10,000 doses of more than 15,000 its received,  said Dr. Mark Hallett, the chief medical officer of Peace Health.

RELATED: Only a fraction of COVID-19 vaccine has been used in Washington state

It's a process that hospital leaders admitted hasn't been easy.

"It is a little bit clunky at this point. So, sometimes we get notice that a shipment has been delayed and then it shows up in two days," said Dr. Hallett.

The rush to vaccinate as many frontline healthcare workers as possible is underway as hospital capacity across the state nears 90%.

"Hospitals are almost always this full this time of year with respiratory season, so 87% – it’s worth watching. Is it something that we are really sort of panicked about," said Cassie Sauer of the Washington State Hospital Association.

The state has made changes to help with a faster rollout of the vaccine. 

The Department of Health last week expanded who qualifies for the 1A group to receive the vaccine to include other healthcare workers not necessarily on the frontlines. One of the biggest changes is the state is allowing doctors to use their best judgement with what to do with remaining doses of the vaccine only if everyone who qualifies for that 1A group has been vaccinated.

It's a change that hospital leaders said is already making more doses available. 

The state is expected to announce who will be in the next phase of vaccinations sometime in early January. 

RELATED: Washington to unveil second phase of COVID-19 vaccine plan in early January