COVID vaccinations begin on Whidbey
— Created December 16, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
The first COVID-19 vaccinations will be administered starting today on Whidbey Island.
According to Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman, WhidbeyHealth was scheduled to receive 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week. A subsequent press release from WhidbeyHealth Monday afternoon confirmed the facility was set to receive the first doses Tuesday – earlier than first expected – so inoculations are expected to begin Thursday, starting with WhidbeyHealth healthcare workers in the Phase 1a category.
“We can now see light at the end of the tunnel and the availability of vaccine is promising,” Higman told Whidbey Weekly via email.
The news of the vaccine’s arrival coincides with a steady rise in cases of COVID-19 in Island County. As of Monday evening, there had been 802 confirmed cases in Island County and a total of 18 deaths.
The vaccine will be given to residents based on recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department of Health. Frontline healthcare workers, high-risk first responders and residents and staff of long term care facilities are included in the initial group. According to a press release Tuesday from ICPH, additional providers will be added throughout Island County as more vaccine is received in early 2021.
For now, WhidbeyHealth has been designated as an open vaccination provider and plans to have vaccinated about 1,600 workers within the first two weeks of receiving the vaccine. Other healthcare workers in the Phase 1a group will be able to schedule an appointment through their employers. Further guidance on the order of vaccine eligibility and distribution will be issued by the DOH as the rollout continues, similar to boarding groups getting on an airplane, according to ICPH. Washington DOH will release a web tool in early January to help people identify their phase and where they can get vaccinated.
The process of vaccinating enough people to attain “herd immunity” within the general population is expected to take quite a long time.
“It will take a significant effort to deliver vaccine to the population through providers,” Higman said. “Behaviors should not change just because vaccine is arriving. We still need to mitigate for COVID until we have a significant portion of the population vaccinated.”
“While this is an exciting phase in our fight against COVID-19, I cannot stress enough the importance of precautions and continuing to contain the spread of the disease,” Erin Wooley, WhidbeyHealth chief nursing officer, said in the press release. “Everyone should follow advice related to gatherings for the holidays, wearing masks, distancing and frequent hand-washing.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration completed its review of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at -94 degrees, granting emergency use authorization to the vaccine Friday. The 17-member Scientific Safety Review Workgroup in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and Nevada put its stamp of approval on the vaccine after conducting its own review. A second vaccine produced by Moderna is being reviewed by the FDA this week and is expected to be granted authorization for emergency use.
All of this is good news, said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in a press conference Sunday.
“After months of fighting this relentless virus, we now can begin to use this vaccine against this virus and add that to our tools we have been using, of acting responsibly by masking up and socially distancing,” he said. “This cannot come soon enough, obviously. Our state is closing in on 200,000 Washingtonians that we know have been infected…and unfortunately we are approaching the loss of 3,000 Washingtonians to this dread disease. We know there’s much to do, but having this vaccine is just tremendous news for our state.”
But concerns over the safety of the vaccine may prevent people who are eligible from getting it. Inslee said he is confident the vaccine is safe.
“I am extremely confident Washingtonians can begin to receive this vaccine in a safe fashion,” he said, citing the independent workgroup’s approval as added assurance of its safety. “These experts, after review, advised me the FDA followed its usual process, as it normally would when reviewing a vaccine for emergency authorization. This is very reassuring to me – and I hope, to others – to start down the road to recovering from this pandemic.”
State health officials say they expect to receive about 222,000 Pfizer vaccines by the end of the year. An additional 183,000+ doses of the Moderna vaccine could also arrive by the end of December, should it be approved for use. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, administered about three weeks apart.
Washington DOH estimates the Phase 1a group includes about 500,000 people.