The Seattle Fire Department on Thursday will begin vaccinating residents of adult family homes throughout the city, after the city was approved late last week as a distributor of COVID-19 vaccines, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced.
Durkan framed the new push as the first in what will eventually be a major city effort to distribute the vaccine from sites spread throughout the city.
“We have to get these shots out of refrigerators and into people’s arms,” she said. “We hope that if we get steady supplies, we will stand up mass vaccination sites side by side with our testing sites.”
The city has, for months, operated four free drive-up coronavirus testing sites that, city officials said, have conducted more than 556,000 tests.
Durkan said the city has talked with Seattle Public Schools about possibly using school facilities to set up vaccination sites.
“It will really have to be an all-hands-on-deck approach,” she said, stressing that to reach 70% of its adult population, King County will have to vaccinate 1.3 million people, giving out 2.6 million shots. “It is an undertaking that our country has never done before, not on this scale.”
In this first step, Fire Department paramedics will go door to door at adult family homes not served by a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens. There are about 100 such facilities in the city, fire Chief Harold Scoggins said, with about eight to 10 residents and staff in each.
Adult family homes serve both older adults and people with disabilities in a residential setting. There are more than 3,300 adult family homes in Washington, and more than 1,200 in King County, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), although it’s unclear how many of them may be served by CVS and Walgreens.
In Seattle, nine adult family homes are currently reporting at least one COVID case, among residents or staff, according to DSHS, and 22 others have had cases since the start of the pandemic.
Seattle Fire will vaccinate both residents and workers at the homes, officials said.
It will use two mobile vaccination teams, each with one EMS technician or paramedic to give out the shots and two other staff to verify identifications and collect information for the state’s vaccine tracking system, Scoggins said.
The city has asked for an initial shipment of 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which it plans to distribute within two weeks.
Seattle Fire plans to complete the first round of vaccinations by Jan. 24 and the second dose by Feb. 21.
Since receiving vaccines in mid-December, the state has struggled to quickly vaccinate the most vulnerable people: long-term care residents and health care workers. CVS and Walgreens, which have been contracted to set up vaccine clinics at long-term care facilities, have fumbled scheduling vaccine clinics, after waiting weeks for state approval.
The Washington State Department of Health on Saturday approved Seattle Fire as a vaccine distributor.
But it was a lengthy process. The city first applied for approval in late November, Scoggins said, and had to go through a number of steps, including proving they could properly store (in sub-zero freezers) and handle the vaccine.
State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said last week that the Department of Health had told him about 2,000 health care providers were awaiting approval to act as vaccine distributors and that they cited staffing issues for the backlog.
The state Department of Health did not respond to questions about provider approval and the backlog.
Washington is currently in the early phases of vaccine distribution, where health care workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities are prioritized. The next phase of vaccinations will go to people over 70 years old and people over 50 years old who live in multi-generational households.
The state is responsible for determining vaccine eligibility criteria.
Durkan said she was frustrated with the slow pace of vaccine distribution but noted the whole world is in the same boat.
She compared it to the city’s struggle, last spring, to secure enough coronavirus testing materials, calling it “deja vu all over again.”
“We finally got the vaccine that can provide hope,” Durkan said. “We’re really going to rely on the federal government to provide a steady source.”