Eligibility expanded for critical workers
By Ann McCreary
Vaccine providers in Okanogan County are preparing to meet new demand for COVID-19 vaccinations as state health officials open eligibility to more people.
Teachers, school staff members and child care workers became eligible for vaccinations last week, and within days of Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement a local vaccination event was organized for Methow Valley educators (see related story above).
The Washington Department of Health has announced that additional groups will become eligible on March 22. They include pregnant women who are 16 or older, and people age 16 or older who have a disability that puts them at higher risk of illness from COVID-19.
The new eligibility under Phase 1B Tier 2 also includes all critical workers of any age in certain congregate settings such as agriculture, food processing, grocery stores and food banks, corrections, prisons, jails, detention centers, court facilities, public transit, fire and law enforcement.
“We’ve experienced a slight surge in registrations as a result of the new eligibility for K-12 education, school staff and child care workers,” said John McReynolds, CEO of North Valley Hospital in Tonasket.
“Teachers had been one of our target groups for the extra vaccine that would otherwise be wasted, so we were able to get many of them in before this recent change to eligibility. With the announcement of 1B-2 phase starting March 22, we have started to see new applications for that phase come in as well.”
North Valley Hospital has received comparatively generous supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since mid-December. In addition to providing vaccinations at the hospital’s medical clinic, North Valley has transferred nearly 4,000 doses of vaccines to a variety of partners, including Aero Methow Rescue Services, Confluence Health, Ferry County Hospital, Mid-Valley Hospital, and Northeast Tri-County Health District in Colville.
“The first of these doses went to health care workers and nursing home residents, and more recently they have been used to supply the mass vaccine events at the Okanogan Fairgrounds and at Methow Valley School District,” McReynolds said.
Johnson & Johnson questions
Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, which is providing Moderna vaccine, has not received any first doses in a few weeks, and is “nearing the end of our scheduled second doses,” said spokesperson Jennifer Best. “Hopefully the tide will turn soon and we’ll start getting first does shipments again. With Phase 1B’s expansion last week and the upcoming opening of Tier 2, we want to resume vaccinating as soon as possible.”
The hospital is also getting calls and emails “wondering if we will offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Best said. That vaccine recently gained federal authorization for use and requires only one dose, rather than the two doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Best said it’s not clear yet how the vaccine will be allocated. “We’ve heard that the Johnson & Johnson distribution may be focused mostly on pharmacies and rural areas, so we’d be happy to provide it as well. Enough residents seem to be holding out for it that I think we’ll see registration numbers go up again if we are able to offer it.”
Three Rivers is continuing outreach efforts to residents in the hospital district who may need help signing up for vaccinations. “Last week a few of our team members set up booths outside several businesses in Brewster to help more Spanish-speaking community members get signed up,” she said.
“From that experience we learned there has been some miscommunication and misunderstanding about who is eligible. Quite a few people were excited to learn that they are in fact eligible, given that they live in multigenerational households. Most just needed extra help completing the form,” Best said. She said about 80 people received information and assistance.
State health officials have announced tentative plans to open up additional phases of eligibility next month, including people 50 or older with two or more comorbidities on April 12; people 16 or older with two or more comorbidities on April 26; and residents, staff and volunteers in congregate housing on April 26.