In a nondescript union hall in South Seattle, between an auto-parts store and a lot of empty tractor trailers, the city inched slowly, ever-so-slowly, toward curbing the coronavirus pandemic.
Grocery store workers trickled in at appointed times. Union officials directed them inside. Temporary city employees registered them. Seattle Fire Department medics and technicians filled syringes and administered vaccines.
The city of Seattle has received about 2,000 vaccine doses, with another 1,000 expected to arrive Tuesday, city officials said. For the last two weeks, Fire Department teams have been going door to door to vaccinate some of Seattle’s most vulnerable — elderly residents of adult family homes and senior affordable housing.
As of Friday, the city had administered nearly all of its doses, with none wasted, officials said. They hoped to vaccinate 400 people Sunday at the pop-up clinic hosted by the city and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21.
Those numbers only apply to vaccines sent directly to the city of Seattle, and do not include thousands more sent to hospitals and health care providers in the city. Still, the modest numbers reflect the monumental scale of the task ahead, as the Puget Sound region, Washington state and the nation race to distribute a still-limited supply of vaccine as quickly as possible.
King County has about 2.2 million people, including more than 300,000 senior citizens, each of whom would need two shots of the currently available vaccines. The county, as a whole, is getting about 21,000 doses a week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Sunday.
“I know there’s been so much frustration, everywhere in Seattle, everywhere in the state and the country about the lack of vaccinations, and the supply really has been the limiting factor,” Durkan said.
Inside the union hall, the same teams that have been giving shots at adult family homes were serving grocery workers who meet the current state requirements — over age 65, or over age 50 and living in a multigenerational household, like grandparents with grandchildren.
“Grocery stores have been a lifeline during the pandemic,” said Durkan, who will soon sign legislation (pushed for by UFCW21) mandating $4 per hour hazard pay for grocery workers. “Many people go to the grocery store and they try to get in and out as quickly as possible because to them it feels risky. And yet our workers show up day-in, day-out, eight-, 10-hour shifts serving anybody who comes through the doors.”
Elizabeth Luong, who began working with the Fire Department in June at the city’s coronavirus testing sites, worked an iPad to register patient information and then hand out vaccine cards.
“Everyone’s just super happy,” Luong said, of those receiving shots. “They just come in and have big smiles.”
The city’s testing sites have hired more than 100 temporary workers and administered more than 600,000 tests and are ready to shift more personnel to the vaccination effort, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said.
Capt. Kelly Pyle sat at a wood laminate table facing a wall. Before him: a stack of syringes and a small cardboard box containing 10 glass vials. To his right: an insulated, wheeled cooler, containing more of those boxes.
On each box, simple directions — “STORE FROZEN,” “Protect from light,” “10 multiple-dose vials” — offering little hint of the multibillion-dollar sprint to deliver the lifesaving liquid inside faster than any other vaccine in human history.
One by one, Pyle unwrapped syringes, inserted each one into a vial, and carefully pulled the plunger — half a milliliter per syringe.
Each vial contains 10 doses, but “sometimes you can get 11,” Pyle said.
“People are very excited,” said Capt. Duncan Jewell, in a pause between administering vaccines. “It’s the one shot they are excited to get after avoiding shots all their life.”
Robin Hillistad, 67, was among them. “Be gentle,” she told the medic. “I passed out when they pierced my ears.”
Hillistad, who works at the Uptown QFC, and her 87-year-old mother both got their first shots Sunday. It’s really difficult to socially distance at work, Hillistad said, so she’s “very pleased” and “a little relieved” to get the immunization process started.
By 11:30 a.m., the teams had administered about 100 shots.
After receiving a shot, each patient took a seat for 15 minutes, in one of 16 chairs set up in a four-by-four socially distanced grid, to be monitored, just in case they had an adverse reaction.
The crew took a break for lunch — from Fonda La Catrina in Georgetown — and then vaccinations continued. Step by step: Register the patient, fill the syringe, inoculate, monitor. For the current vaccine, each step would be repeated 4.4 million times to vaccinate everyone in the county.
“We’ve got a pretty good team and system,” Jewell said. “So if we can get enough shots, we can get them out the door.”