Gov. Inslee to add 2 million people to Washington vaccine rollout

Among those who can get a vaccine starting March 31 are restaurant and construction workers and anyone 60 or older.

Vaccinators and patients seen at Lumen Field Event Center's COVID-19 vaccination site on March 13, 2021. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Two million more people will soon be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in Washington state, including restaurant and construction workers, those 60 to 64 years old, people experiencing homelessness and those who have other health problems that make them more likely to die from COVID-19.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the expansion of vaccine eligibility — to take effect on March 31 — at a news conference on Thursday.

He said he was expanding eligibility because the state has been getting better at distributing the vaccine and more doses are coming our way. The Washington Department of Health reports the state has nearly reached its goal of giving vaccines to 45,000 people a day.

Also on Thursday, the governor extended the statewide eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021, and signed proclamations protecting consumers from utility shut-offs and stopping debt collectors from going after federal pandemic relief checks. It’s also OK to start visiting the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

To help adults get access to Washington’s increasing vaccine supply, the Department of Health is working with Amazon to provide more customer service people to answer the telephone and help individuals make vaccine appointments.

The governor’s previous estimate when most of these new groups would be added to the vaccine line was April 12, although previous phase lists did not include people 60 to 64 or restaurant and construction workers.

On March 31, about 5 million Washington adults will be eligible to seek a coronavirus vaccine, leaving about a million more people still waiting to become eligible. The governor thanked the Biden Administration for making the faster pace of vaccine rollout possible by ramping up production of the three approved vaccines.

"Obviously, we still want more doses. We'll take all the doses we can get," Inslee said. He expects Washington will be able to make every adult eligible by the president's deadline of May 1.

As of March 13, a total of 2,517,506 doses of the vaccines have been put into arms across Washington, according to the state vaccine dashboard. That’s about 80% of the doses delivered to the state as of that date.

When asked why Washington doesn't just open up vaccine appointments to every adult in the state, as states like Montana and Michigan are doing, Inslee reminded the public that being eligible for the vaccine is not the same thing as getting a shot in your arm.

"It's partly a trick question. It's one thing to be eligible for a vaccine and another to actually be able to get a vaccine," Inslee said, adding that he's not impressed by states that just opened vaccines up to everyone and didn't use the measured approach Washington has employed, focusing first on the people most likely to end up in the hospital or dying.

"We need to look at this with an ounce of compassion and heartfelt love for those who are most at risk," he added.

To facilitate vaccine appointments, the Department of Health has launched a new online vaccine locator tool, and people may also call 800-525-0127 to talk with people who will help them find a vaccine. Another resource for finding a place to get the vaccine is the Washington COVID Vaccine Finder, which calls itself a community-driven effort to help Washingtonians find vaccine appointments. The governor also encourages people to check out the state's new vaccine locator site or call 800-525-0127 to get help finding a vaccine.

The state also has a tool to help people figure out what phase they are in. That same tool is supposed to notify people when their phase is open and when and where they can sign up to get vaccinated.

The governor previously added grocery store employees, teachers and workers in congregate settings, such as jails and group homes for those with disabilities. Thursday’s order adds anyone living in a congregate setting, including those experiencing homelessness or people lives in jails, anyone with two or more comorbidities, anyone 60 to 64 and people working in restaurants, food service and processing, as well as construction and manufacturing.

Updated with more details throughout.

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