SPENCER ECHON | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE
Whitman County, along with the rest of Washington state, entered the first tier of Phase 1B in its COVID-19 vaccination distribution process.
Individuals eligible for vaccination include anyone over 65 years, as well as all people over 50 who are living in a multigenerational household, said Chris Skidmore, interim director for Whitman County Public Health.
The county will continue to vaccinate individuals eligible for Phase 1A, which includes healthcare workers who provide direct patient care and individuals who are working or staying in long-term care facilities. The county is still working to administer the second dose of the vaccine to those individuals, Skidmore said.
The number of individuals eligible for vaccination will be significantly higher in Phase 1B than Phase 1A, especially because the first tier of Phase 1B now includes everyone over 65 years rather than just those over 70 years, Skidmore said.
Vaccinating individuals in Phase 1B will be more flexible than Phase 1A, he said. If not enough individuals in the first tier of Phase 1B sign up for vaccinations, then those in the second tier will begin to be vaccinated.
Clinics will be set up across the county so eligible individuals can receive the first dose of the vaccine. Some clinics already occurred for individuals eligible for Phase 1A, but those clinics were not open to the public, he said.
Now, individuals can check their eligibility and sign up for vaccinations on the state’s newly launched Phase Finder website. The website is privacy-protected so all information entered is confidential.
The Phase Finder website will help eligible individuals locate nearby vaccination clinics, which can be located in schools, libraries or other open spaces, he said.
“We’ll be looking at a lot of different areas in space because you need a lot of space to observe folks after they’ve been given the vaccine,” he said. “There’s a 15-minute observation requirement … so you need to be able to space those folks out so they can socially distance.”
Individuals are kept for around 15 minutes after receiving doses of the vaccine to ensure they do not experience any adverse reaction, he said.
Clinics will be running weekly based on the number of vaccines received by the county. The county receives weekly vaccine shipments in different quantities, but the plan is to administer all those vaccines within a week after they are received. This makes it difficult to estimate how long vaccinating individuals in Phase 1B will take, Skidmore said.
“It’s kind of difficult to say how fast we can get through that because we can see a big flood of vaccine come into the county,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
The county is currently trying to administer about 1,000 vaccines this week, but Skidmore said he is hoping to increase that number to see how many people the county is capable of vaccinating.
“We’re thinking that if everything goes really, really good we could maybe get 1,500 done in a day,” he said. “But we’re just going to have to … take one step at a time and see if that’s something we can achieve. That’s kind of what our goal is looking like in one of these mass vaccination clinics.”
About 650 individuals were vaccinated last weekend during a clinic, he said.
About 1,500-1,600 individuals in the county were eligible for the vaccine as part of Phase 1A. Some eligible individuals refused vaccination, he said.
More information about COVID-19 vaccinations can be found on Whitman County Public Health’s website, as well as Washington State Department of Health’s website.