Eligibility expands to everyone 16 and older in Washington state

“Starting April 16th, everyone 16 and older who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can receive one in Washington. The eligibility expansion marks the four-month anniversary of vaccine rollout in our state. Since mid-December, nearly 4.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across the state. More than 2.67 million people have received at least one dose and more than 23% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated. Opening eligibility to everyone 16 and older will further protect our communities and help us get closer to crossing the finish line of this global pandemic.

The Washington State Department of Health’s (DOH) Vaccine Locator tool is a great resource to help you find a vaccine appointment in your area. Since launching the improved website, more than 1.6 million people have visited Vaccine Locator with 300,000 new users within the last week. More than 70% of people visiting the site click through to a provider’s scheduling website. We anticipate these numbers will spike today and we are prepared for increased traffic. If you need help making an appointment, please call the COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #. Language assistance is available.

Currently Pfizer-BioNTech is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for people 16 years of age and older. Moderna is authorized for people 18 and older. Those age 16 and 17 may need consent from a parent or guardian to get the vaccine, unless they are legally emancipated. To help simplify registration, we have added vaccine type to Vaccine Locator and are in the process of retrieving information from providers to show on the website and app. If the vaccine type is listed as “vaccine type unknown,” people may need to contact the provider. We know this information is important and we hope to include it throughout Vaccine Locator as soon as possible.

Currently about 6.1 million people in Washington are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. While we are pleased many people are eager to be vaccinated, we continue to ask for the public’s patience. If you struggle to find an appointment near you today, do not get discouraged. As we work to get our communities vaccinated, please remember to wear a face covering, get tested if you feel sick, practice physical distancing, and properly wash your hands. It is going to take time to vaccinate millions of people in Washington. The good news is, we are well on our way.”

Addressing concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine

Deciding whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine is not always a straightforward matter. Individuals who have complex health care needs, or those who live with people who have complex health care needs, may have questions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Here are some things to consider and discuss with your doctor.

Note: Due to the appearance of rare blood clot side-effect, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not currently being administered at this time.

Allergies

The CDC recommends that individuals who have an allergy or past negative reaction to any vaccine ingredient, however minor, against getting the COVID vaccine.  Patients who are allergic to an ingredient are at risk of anaphylaxis, which could be life-threatening.  Unlike many vaccines, none of the current COVID vaccines contain eggs.  The ingredients of approved vaccines are as follows:

Pfizer-BioNTech: mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose.

Moderna: mRNA, lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol, and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]), tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate and sucrose.

Janssen/Johnson & Johnson: recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, citric acid monohydrate, trisodium citrate dihydrate, ethanol, 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD), polysorbate-80, sodium chloride.

Weakened Immune Systems

People who have weakened immune systems are likely to be more susceptible to COVID-19 and at greater risk for having severe cases of COVID-19. Individuals with weakened immune systems are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but there is limited information on its efficacy and safety on the immuno-compromised. Consultation with a physician is recommended before taking the COVID vaccine.

Autoimmune Disorders

People with an autoimmune disorder are eligible for the COVID vaccine. However, there is little data on the health risks of any COVID vaccine on individuals with autoimmune disorders.  Several medications used to treat autoimmune disorders have been known to have mild to severe interactions with the mRNA vaccines, so consult a physician before getting the vaccine. A list of the medications that are known to have interactions with the COVID vaccine are listed below.

Interactions with Medications and other Vaccines

Several medications have been known to have negative interactions with the COVID-19 mRNA (Moderna and Pfizer) vaccines.  They are Efalizumab (commercially known as Raptiva,) Fingolimod (commercially known as Gilenya,) Siponimod (commercially known as Mayzent,) and Satralizumab (commercially known as Enspryng.) These medications are used for autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.  Interactions with Janseen/Johnson & Johnson are not yet known.  It is likely that other medications, including steroids and anti-inflammatories, may lessen the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine.

The Hepatitis B Vaccine (commercially known as Fendrix) is known to have interactions with the mRNA vaccines.  It is not recommended to take any other vaccines, such as a flu shot, withing two weeks of the COVID vaccines.  The three available COVID vaccines are not interchangeable and should not be mixed.

Side Effects

For individuals not allergic to any of the ingredients of the vaccine they were administered, serious side effects were rare.  For the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the most common side-effects were pain at the injections site, headaches, and fatigue.  For two-dose vaccinations, these side effects were more acute after the second dose.

Age and Weight Complications

Recommendations for the COVID vaccine are done by age, not weight. The Jensen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine and Moderna vaccine are available to individuals 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine is available to individuals 16 and older.  Trials on younger people are underway for both the Pfizer and Moderna. These initial trials are testing children as young as five-years-old, with the intent of eventually making a vaccine suitable for infants as young as six-months-old. These vaccinations use decreased doses of the available vaccine, and there is hope that school age children will be able to get the vaccination by the start of the next school year.

The Pfizer vaccine has been studied for its relationship to BMI (body mass index) and effectiveness. There did not appear to be any notable difference between individuals who are underweight, overweight, or who had normal BMI in the vaccines’ efficacy. Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine in morbidly obese individuals, but no firm data has been found.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

When consulting a physician about the COVID vaccine, ask specific questions and give details on your concerns.  Here are some questions you might ask:

  • I am concerned about possible interactions with other medications – is it possible to get the opinion of an allergist-immunologist for my particular situation?
  • I am not allergic to any of the ingredients of the vaccine, but I am still worked about anaphylaxis. Will I be able to be monitored right after receiving the vaccine to ensure my safety?
  • My immune system is compromised, is there a way to determine whether or not it would be safe for me to get the vaccine?
  • My schedule is hectic, so what happens if I cannot get my second dose at the recommended time?
  • Is there anything I can do or medication I can take that will lessen the side effects from the shots?
  • How long after my last dose of the vaccine will it take for me to be immune to COVID?

Download Concerns about the COVID Vaccine in pdf form

Statement on Pausing J & J Vaccine

The Washington State Department of Health will pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J & J) vaccine statewide starting immediately, following the guidance of the FDA/CDC. Use of that vaccine will be put on hold until we receive further recommendations from our federal partners about how best to move forward. Safety is the highest priority when it comes to all COVID-19 vaccines.

This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution based on the appearance of a rare but serious side effect including serious brain blood clots (CVST) combined with low platelet counts in six patients, all women under 50. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will review these cases in the days ahead and will recommend guidance going forward. 

About 149,000 doses of J & J vaccine have been administered in Washington so far, out of more than four million doses total. At this time, we have no knowledge of the six patients who experienced these blood clots being Washington residents.

For those who got the vaccine more than a month ago, the risk of this complication is very low at this time. People who have received the J & J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider. It also demonstrates how well the robust vaccine safety monitoring systems work, since this potential safety concern was identified quickly and vaccines were paused to allow for further investigation.

No definitive cause has been identified yet, but the FDA said today that a probable cause is a rare immune response generated by an individual after receiving the vaccine.

DOH will continue to monitor the situation related to J & J vaccine and update on its use as the pause is reviewed and once it is lifted.

Roadmap to Recovery Announcement

Statement from Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health:

“When we see increased rates of cases and hospitalizations, we need to act fast and do the right thing county-by-county to prevent more serious consequences from COVID-19 in our state. That is why the tough decisions are being made and some counties are being moved back to Phase 2.

There is still time to turn the tide and slow the spread of COVID-19 before it turns into a fourth wave. We need to take these preventative measures over the next few months at least to get numbers going in the right direction again.

We are still in a hopeful time. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last year and we continue to rise to the challenges as a state – not just with life-saving solutions, but with a sense of community and teamwork that has made Washington’s response the best in the country.

We need to focus on lowering disease transmission for the next several months, even though we have increased immunity across the state due to vaccination efforts.

Vaccine is a crucial tool, but it isn’t the only tool, and we don’t have enough yet to rely on it to shore up the virus and keep the majority of us safe from the spread of disease. We’ve administered more than four million vaccines to people in Washington so far, and more than 20% of our state population is fully vaccinated. We’ll keep up this important work of getting people vaccinated, with the goal of reaching a more robust level of community immunity.”

Everyone 16 and Older Eligible for Vaccine – April 15

Everyone 16 and older who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible to receive one in Washington state starting April 15. The state’s phased eligibility approach has helped ensure those most vulnerable were the first to be vaccinated, including older adults, those in long term care facilities, critical health care workers, and more. The federal government said vaccine allocations will continue to increase. This, combined with continued hard work from our providers across the state to get shots in arms, has allowed the state to open eligibility sooner than expected to help us stop the spread of the virus.

Currently Pfizer-BioNTech is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for people 16 years of age and older. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for people 18 and older. Those age 16 or 17 may need consent from a parent or guardian to get the vaccine, unless they are legally emancipated.

Phase 1B tiers 3 and 4 now open

Wednesday Washington entered Phase 1B tiers 3 and 4 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine timeline. This advancement opened eligibility to about 2 million people, including people 16 years or older with two or more co-morbidities or underlying conditions, people age 60 and older, people, staff and volunteers in certain congregate living settings, and high-risk critical workers in certain congregate settings. For a detailed list of who is eligible please refer to DOH’s vaccine allocation and prioritization guidance document.

Phase Finder, the state’s online vaccine eligibility tool, is no longer needed to verify vaccine eligibility. Eligibility and vaccine location information can be found on Vaccine Locator. Those who need help can call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #. Language assistance is available.

State’s online eligibility tool no longer required starting March 31

OLYMPIA – Phase Finder, the state’s online vaccine eligibility tool, will no longer be required to verify COVID-19 vaccine eligibility starting March 31.

That means that people who want a vaccine should check DOH’s prioritization guidance webpage to see when they are eligible to get vaccinated. Those who are eligible can then use Vaccine Locator to find an appointment. After March 30, those who visit the Phase Finder site will be directed to Vaccine Locator. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has informed vaccine providers of this change. DOH has asked that providers no longer require Phase Finder to schedule an appointment or ask for it when patients arrive for their appointment.

Vaccine Locator is available in 30 languages and will add seven more languages by the end of April. Those who have further questions or need help making an appointment can call the state’s COVID-19 information hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #. Language assistance is available.

While Phase Finder is going away, the state’s vaccine phases are staying the same. The state remains in Phase 1B2, and on March 31, vaccine eligibility opens to people in Phase 1B tiers 3 and 4.

“The goal is to vaccinate as many vulnerable community members as fast as possible before opening vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 years and older in just a few weeks. Removing Phase Finder will help speed up the process by reducing barriers for eligible individuals,” says Michele Roberts, one of the state leaders for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “We trust most people will continue to do the right thing and wait their turn to be vaccinated.”

COVID-19 data show some signs of increasing activity

OLYMPIA – Today the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released the latest statewide situation report on COVID-19, which shows the state’s progress in fighting COVID-19 since early January is slowing. These trends are cause for significant concern as variants of the virus that spread more easily and cause more serious illness become more widespread in the state. Report findings include:

  • COVID-19 transmission may be increasing. Our estimates for the reproductive number – how many new people each COVID-19 patient will infect – remain close to one, with more uncertainty in recent weeks than over the previous few months. The best estimate of the reproductive number in Washington on March 5 was 1.28. The goal is to maintain a reproductive number well below one—meaning COVID-19 transmission is declining—for a substantial amount of time.
  • Statewide daily case counts have flattened at a relatively high level of around 654 new cases per day as of March 11. Case counts began flattening over the previous month following declines that started in early January.
  • Many counties are seeing cases plateau, though there is some variation from county to county. Twenty-three of 39 counties had rates lower than 100 new cases per 100,000 people over the two-week period ending on March 11, and three of those counties had no new cases during that time. During that same time, 13 counties had rates between 100 and 200 new cases per 100,000 people, and two counties had rates between 200-300 new cases per 100,000 people. One county had over 400 new cases per 100,000 people, demonstrating how quickly the situation can shift as people change their behavior.
  • Cases among people over 60 years old are declining more rapidly as the proportion of vaccinated people in this age group grows. Across all age groups, declines in case counts began in early January and largely flattened over the last month, with some recent variability among younger adults and youths. With lower vaccination rates, these younger populations remain susceptible to the disease. This is particularly concerning as variants of concern increase, since even young people can get severely ill and die of COVID-19.
  • Hospital admission rates have declined since early January among all age groups. However, we have started to see these declines flatten among people 80 and older (a population that is more vulnerable to severe illness) and people age 40 to 49 (a population with a lower proportion of vaccinated people than older groups).
  • The number of hospital beds occupied by confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients began increasing in mid-March after steady declines since January. We see this uptick in the total number of occupied beds as well as in intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
  • The estimated prevalence (percentage of people with active COVID-19 infections) has plateaued since early February, following declines in January. High prevalence means there are a lot of people with infections who may need health care and could be spreading the virus to others. The best model-based prevalence estimate as of March 5 was 0.11%.

“I am increasingly concerned about the signs we’re seeing in our data. Previous declines have stopped, and disease activity may be increasing,” said Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH. “We all need to recognize that the pandemic is not over and significant risk remains, even as we vaccinate more and more people. We need to limit the spread of the virus by actively making good choices in our communities, including wearing masks, keeping our distance, avoiding gatherings and delaying travel.”

Inslee announces extension of eviction moratorium, expansion of vaccine eligibility, long-term care visitations may resume

“Gov. Jay Inslee today announced that the statewide eviction moratorium will be extended through June 20, as well as upcoming vaccine eligibility expansion, including restaurant workers and Washingtonians 60 and older. He also announced that effective immediately, visitations at long-term care facilities and nursing homes may resume.

In addition, the state Department of Health (DOH) today launched a new web tool to help people find open vaccination appointments near them.

Eviction moratorium extension

The governor announced that the statewide eviction moratorium will be extended through June 30, 2021. The moratorium, first put in place exactly a year ago today, has been a vital protection for families struggling with the persistent economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic’s economic toll continues to burden many Washingtonians, particularly tenants,” Inslee said during a press conference Thursday. “People need these supports right now. There is no other way to look at it.”

Since the moratorium was first instituted, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone toward rental assistance — for both tenants and landlords. Additional rental assistance will be available through the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act from the federal government.”

Read the full announcement here.

Phase 1b-2 expansion: Individuals with disabilities that put them at high risk become eligible for vaccines

OLYMPIA — As the state advances to the next tier of vaccine eligibility, the Washington State Department of Health wants to emphasize that the expansion will include some people with disabilities. 

People with disabilities continue to experience access barriers to the COVID-19 vaccine and certain disabilities can put someone at increased risk for severe illness. This prioritization is intentional to provide access to a high-risk group that experiences more barriers to access.  

Governor Jay Inslee announced last week that Washington state will make an early move to Phase 1b-2, advancing on March 17 instead of March 22. Phase 1b-2 includes pregnant people and individuals with disabilities that put them at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness. Phase 1b-2 also includes a number of high-risk worker groups. Read more about who is eligible here.

Individuals with disabilities are eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1b-2 if their disability alone puts them at higher risk for severe illness, or if they have a disability coupled with another underlying condition identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If people are unsure if their disability puts them at greater risk, they should have a conversation with their health care provider.

“These prioritization recommendations came directly from disability partners, families of people with disabilities, and members of our COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Collaborative. We appreciate the willingness of communities and partners to provide us feedback so we can strive for equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Katie Meehan, Equitable Policy & Access Manager for the Washington State Department of Health.

It’s also important to remember that caregivers are still eligible for a vaccine.  Anyone who supports the daily, functional and health needs of someone who is at high risk of COVID-19 illness due to advanced age, long term physical condition, co-morbidities, or developmental or intellectual disability is considered a health care worker and is therefore eligible.  They can be licensed, unlicensed, paid, unpaid, formal or informal. The person for whom they are providing care can be an adult or child. 

For more information on underlying medical conditions, visit the CDC’s website.