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Larsen, Department of Health say everyone 16 and up can be vaccinated starting April 15

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Brig. Gen. Caroline M. Miller receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas on Jan. 29. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen hosted a virtual town hall with Wash. state Secretary of Health Umair Shah and acting Assistant Secretary of Prevention and Community Health Michele Roberts to discuss vaccine rollout and developments. // Photo Courtesy of Joint Base San Antonio Public Affairs via Flickr.

On the same day Western Washington University alerted students, faculty and staff to 67 positive cases among Western students, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen hosted a virtual town hall to discuss vaccine rollout.

During the town hall a community member raised concern with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases at Western and other universities, inquiring whether vaccination centers could be set up at the colleges.

In response, Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state Secretary of Health, said as vaccine supply grows after April 15, more distribution locations will become possible, including working with universities.

“Until we're out of this pandemic, we're still in it,” Shah said. “Let's not forget that.”

Shah warned that despite Washington exceeding the 45,000 vaccine doses per day goal, the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has the public health community worried of a possible fourth wave.

Shah said as of April 1, 1.3 million people in Washington have been fully vaccinated, 3.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered and about 6.3 million people will become eligible for the vaccine by April 15.

“Vaccine supply has been our constraint, our limitation over the last several months,” Shah said. “That continues to be a challenge for us but as the congressman mentioned, we're seeing increased doses of vaccines coming or being promised and also coming in the road ahead by the federal government.”

Larsen said with the American Rescue Plan, they want to get more shots in arms. 

Shah said currently for healthcare providers there is more demand for the vaccine than the state can supply. 

The three available vaccines, a two-dose vaccine manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, and a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson are safe and effective, Shah said. Additionally, Shah urged people not to wait to get their vaccine because the best vaccine is the one being offered.

“Don’t wait, vaccinate,” Shah said. 

 The town hall also brought up the question of providing vaccines to 55+ communities. Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary of prevention and community health, said strategies to create options for vaccine supply increases, especially for homebound seniors, is a focus.

Roberts also said the inability to schedule vaccine appointments online is being addressed with phone services. People can call +1-800-525-0127 to schedule appointments.

“About 17% of our state population has had a full complete series of vaccines so we definitely have a road ahead but [we’re] really excited about the progress we've made,” Roberts said.

Roberts said Washington state has administered 83% of the 4 million vaccines they have received. Washington state is currently in Phase 1B, Tier 3 and 4 for vaccinations. Groups eligible for the vaccine can be found here and include: 

  • All people 60 years and older
  • People, staff and volunteers in certain congregate living settings
  • High-risk critical workers in certain congregate settings
  • All workers in health care settings
  • Educators and school staff for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and child care workers
  • People who live or work in long-term care facilities

“We know that's not our group of all essential workers but those are the groups where there's been the highest risks and where there has been disease transmission happening,” Roberts said. “So while we had limited vaccine[s] we really wanted to pick the highest risk settings to protect those workers first.”

Larsen also explained how President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, signed into law on March 11, will affect Washington residents in his district.

“This is a comprehensive relief package that I supported to get more shots in arms, money in pockets, kids in schools and Washingtonians back to work,” Larsen said.

According to Larsen, the American Rescue Plan made 80% of adults and 77% of children in Washington state eligible for funding. The bill also provided $145 million for students to safely return to schools in the second congressional district.

Find a COVID-19 vaccine location or call to set up a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, +1-800-525-0127.

Kyle Tubbs is a visual Journalism student and a senior reporter for The Front. His reporting focuses on local Bellingham news and developments. You can find him on Twitter at @KyleATubbs and reach him at kyletubbs.westernfront@gmail.com.


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