Blasts of cold air, ice and snow sweeping this week through the nation’s center are slowing shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Washington state.
“Storms are causing delays across the nation and keeping vaccine from getting to our state,” said Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health’s acting assistant secretary.
An estimated 90% of shipments of vaccine have been delayed this week, Roberts said during a Thursday news briefing. The state was expecting about 200,000 doses to arrive for Washington vaccine providers this week.
Extreme weather has been blamed for more than three dozen deaths. It’s left Texans, many who have lost power or water services, shivering in below-freezing temperatures. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country has been hit with ice and snow.
The weather has fouled up operations at FedEx and UPS hub facilities in the Southeast, according to reports. Air travel also has been disrupted.
Roberts said the state-operated mass-vaccination site at the Benton County fairgrounds will not be operating through the weekend because of delayed shipments.
People with appointments will be contacted to reschedule next week. The shipping problems could delay second doses for many Washingtonians. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said people should try to get their second dose as close to the recommended interval as possible, but that a six-week interval is acceptable for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Hospitals this week have been shifting around supply to keep as many scheduled appointments as possible.
“There’s been a lot of intra-hospital movement to cover folks today or tomorrow,” Cassie Sauer, of the Washington State Hospital Association, said of vaccine supply at a Wednesday news briefing.
Roberts said she expected the state to be playing some catch-up next week with a lot of vaccine on hand.
“We have high demand,” Roberts said. “We are thinking of strategies — do we open more lanes at the mass-vaccination sites?”
The pace of vaccination in Washington has improved greatly since the vaccine rollout’s earliest days. Roberts said about 83% of the vaccine doses delivered to Washington state since December have been administered.
Cases, deaths, hospitalizations continue to decline
In promising news, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all been dropping since January. As state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist described it, Washington is on the back side of its third wave of disease.
Lindquist attributes the decline, which is mirrored across the country and the Northern Hemisphere, to a complex interaction of factors. Among them: Washingtonians have done a good job of masking, social distancing and limiting gatherings, he said.
The increasing number of people who have been vaccinated, coupled with natural immunity among those who have recovered from infection, is probably also playing a role in slowing the spread. “We have vaccinated more people than have had the disease at this point,” Lindquist said. “Together with some community immunity, that should be affecting how this virus is propagating.”
And like flu and other respiratory bugs, the novel coronavirus probably transmits more readily in the depths of winter and could be slowing down as the season begins to shift, he said.
“We’re in a very different part of this epidemic in Washington state right now … with a lot of tools at our disposal: Two vaccines and a new one (from Johnson & Johnson) likely on the way,” Lindquist said. “I’m feeling very optimistic.”