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Expanding Vaccination to Older Adults in King County

woman receiving her vaccine

Over the past year, the pandemic has hit hard across the globe and resulted in tremendous loss of life and social and economic hardship here in our local region. The COVID-19 vaccines are a light at the end of the tunnel.

The challenge we now face is how to vaccinate as many eligible King County residents as possible quickly, efficiently, and equitably. This tremendous effort will require sustained active engagement from public and private sector partners across our region.  The scale and urgency of this effort cannot be understated.

With the Governor’s announcement that the state is opening “Phase 1B1,” more people in our county who have been among the hardest hit now have an opportunity for additional protection. This group includes adults age 65 and over and people age 50 and older who meet certain risk criteria and live in intergenerational households. In King County, this group includes more than 300,000 people.

This is great news – but it is important for everyone to know that due to limited supply of vaccine nationally and locally, not everyone who is now eligible will be able to access a vaccine right away. Access will improve as the supply increases and providers in King County receive more doses.

Providers in King County are continuing to work hard to finish vaccinating the very highest risk individuals already eligible for vaccine in Phase 1A – this includes health care personnel and long-term care facility staff and residents.  Now, they are also authorized to serve older adults identified in Phase 1B1.

This is the largest single vaccination undertaking in the history of the United States. Public health experts across the nation have predicted since the vaccine was developed that it would take the better part of 6-8 months to get the vast majority of the population vaccinated.

Who is eligible

Vaccination is currently open for people who are:

  • Eligible for Phase 1A: all workers at risk of acquisition or transmission of COVID in healthcare settings; long-term care facility staff and residents; and home health and care aides.
  • Eligible for Phase 1B1:
    • Age 65 years and over 
    • Age 50 and older if they live in a household where two or more generations live (such as an elder and a grandchild) and meet these qualifications:
      • Cannot live independently and receives support from a relative or home caregiver or being cared for by someone who works outside the home.
      • Lives with and cares for a young child, along the lines of a grandparent with a grandchild.
      • This group does not include an older adult who is able to live independently and is taking care of their kin/children.

See Washington State Department of Health’s guidance for more information.

How to get an appointment

For now, vaccine supply and appointments are limited. You may experience delays due to the very high volume of inquiries. This will get easier as providers receive more doses and high-volume vaccine sites open.

Here is how to find out what is available now: 

  • Call your doctor’s office or healthcare provider to see if they have available vaccination appointments.
  • If you don’t have a provider or if your provider doesn’t have vaccine available, Washington State’s Phase Finder online tool can confirm your eligibility and provide you with a list of possible vaccination locations. This is currently available in English and Spanish and the state has more language versions coming.
  • If you can’t use the online Phase Finder tool and have no one to assist you, you can get help over the phone from Washington state’s COVID-19 Assistance Hotline: Dial 1-800-525-0127, then press #. Available Monday–Friday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, and observed state holidays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (note: compared to calling, the online Phase Finder tool may save time if someone can help you).

Connecting older adults to vaccination

Reaching older people in our county is critically important.  Our data show that when older people test positive for COVID-19, they are far more likely than younger people to become seriously ill and die. While less than 10% of all COVID positive cases in King County are among people 65 plus, this age group accounts for nearly 85% of all COVID-related deaths. The quicker this population is vaccinated, the more lives will be saved. 

Older adults are currently receiving vaccinations through:

  • Long-Term Care Facilities: most residents of nursing homes, assisted living and some other long-term care facilities are receiving vaccine on-site through a national partnership with pharmacy chains.
  • Health Care Systems: hospitals, community clinics, and doctors’ offices are the primary way that most of the older adults in King County will get vaccinated. Some health care providers are reaching out now to established patients to book appointments.
  • Mobile Vaccination Teams:Public Health and local fire departments have launched mobile teams to vaccinate highest-risk older adults, including those residing in adult family homes.

Expanding access

To increase access to vaccination, King County is investing $7 million to set up two-high volume vaccination sites in February, with more planned. The county is busy working on the logistics of securing sites, equipment, and staffing to be ready in early February with the first vaccination site. This site will be in south King County, where the rates of COVID-19 have been highest.

In the coming weeks, each high-volume vaccination site will be able to offer 500–1,200 free vaccinations every day, provided that we are able to get the supplies of vaccine we need. Plans are also underway by the City of Seattle and other health system partners for high-volume vaccination sites in other regions of our county. The sites will offer vaccines to those determined to be eligible by the state Department of Health at that time.

When the high-volume vaccination sites are ready to take appointments, information will be available on the Public Health COVID-19 vaccine webpage and broadly announced through the news media and social media. Public Health will also broadcast information about how to get vaccinated through the Aging Network and other human service providers serving older adults.

Vaccinations to date in King County

  • Since mid-December, over 94,000 people in King County have been vaccinated.
  • Staff and residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are now receiving vaccine on-site through major pharmacy chains.
  • Smaller, community-based long-term care facilities such as adult family homes are being served by mobile health teams.
  • Approximately 65 percent of licensed healthcare workers and emergency medical services (EMS) responders have received at least one dose.
  • We continue to reach out broadly to healthcare personnel working in patient care, especially to those who may not know that they are eligible, such as medical technicians, custodial staff, licensed assistants, home health workers, doulas, and medical interpreters.

Moving forward

In the past week, many of our partners from other regional government agencies, the private sector, and philanthropy have reached out to offer their support for vaccination in King County. For example, the Seattle King County Area Agency on Aging—Aging and Disability Services has come forward to assist with developing strategies to reach older adults.

Together, we are planning urgently for a unified, community-wide effort to ensure accessible and equitable ways to deliver vaccine. As more vaccine becomes available from the Federal Government and more people become eligible, vaccinations will be available at pharmacies, at employer-based clinics, at pop-up clinics, and through more high-volume vaccination clinics.

Visit our webpages for more information about COVID-19 vaccine and getting vaccinated in King County.

Originally posted in Public Health Insider on January 18, 2021.