The state’s decision last week to expand vaccine eligibility to those age 65 and over touched off an overwhelming flood of phone calls and hospital visits from people seeking vaccine appointments, hospital leaders say.
“We have stopped scheduling additional appointments right now,” said Brian Ivie, CEO of the Skagit Regional Health system, during a Monday news conference hosted by the Washington State Hospital Association.
The health system booked about 5,000 appointments — slightly more than the number of doses the system has available — before shutting down registrations on Friday.
“Our phone systems can’t handle the demands,” Ivie said. Over the weekend, the health system began to take names online for a wait list. By Monday morning, the list had grown to about 9,000 people.
Meanwhile, Rosalinda Kibby, an administrator with Columbia Basin Hospital in Ephrata, said the hospital had received an “onslaught” of phone calls and visits from people asking to be vaccinated or added to the waitlist.
“We’ve had to work a lot in our community to try to quell the demand … and funnel things to a hotline we’ve set up,” Kibby said.
People struggled on Monday to get through to the state’s own pandemic hotline for due to high call volume, according to a tweet from the state Department of Health (DOH).
State officials say Washington is now using about as many doses as it receives each week. At least 500,105 doses of vaccine had been administered in Washington as of Monday afternoon. That represents more than 59% of the doses delivered to the vaccine providers in the state, according to the health department’s vaccination dashboard.
Hospitals, local health departments and businesses are ramping up mass vaccination clinics to meet the needs of those eligible to make appointments.
But federal supply of first doses has not expanded significantly, and until it does, those clinics are gearing up as much in anticipation as in action.
The state receives about 100,000 new first doses each week, according to Michele Roberts, assistant secretary for DOH’s Prevention and Community Health Division. At that rate, it will take months to have enough vaccine available for those newly eligible.
The state DOH estimates about 1,134,000 Washingtonians are over 65 and therefore qualify for vaccination. Another 350,000 would be eligible because they are over 50 and live in a multigenerational home, according to the department.
“Due to a change in the state’s allocation strategy toward starting up mass vaccination clinics in other areas, our community clinic is currently on an operational pause,” said a statement on the website.
The clinic had vaccinated 17,730 people through Monday, at a rate of about 2,500 per day.
People who were already vaccinated will still get their second doses, the statement said. The clinic will reopen if more vaccine becomes available.
“We’re going to have places where some appointments get canceled,” Roberts said during a committee hearing with state lawmakers on Monday. “We just don’t have enough vaccine for all the sites.”
Roberts said she expected federal vaccine supply to expand if new vaccines receive authorization for emergency use.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday said vaccines being developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca were weeks away from having enough clinical trial data for federal review.
Seattle Times staff reporter Sandi Doughton contributed to this story.