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First doses of Covid vaccines expected next week in Seattle area

caption: Pharmacist Billy Sin shows the refrigerator which will store doses of Covid-19 vaccines, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, at Mount Sinai Queens hospital in New York. Pfizer's vaccine must be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Pharmacist Billy Sin shows the refrigerator which will store doses of Covid-19 vaccines, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, at Mount Sinai Queens hospital in New York. Pfizer's vaccine must be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Washington state is expecting 400,000 doses of Covid vaccines by the end of December – but officials are tight-lipped about where they're going.

The first doses of Covid vaccines in Washington state may arrive next week and would go to 17 sites across 13 counties.

But health officials are keeping mum on the details.

“There is just so much interest in where this vaccine is going,” said Michele Roberts, who is leading vaccine planning and coordination for the state Department of Health.

It appears, however, that four hospitals in the Seattle area will be among the first to receive doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Washington state, according to UW Medicine spokesperson Susan Gregg. Those four hospitals are within the UW Medical system.

“We don’t have a firm date quite yet when UW Medicine will be getting the vaccine but anticipate sometime next week assuming the last approvals are met,” Gregg said.

The UW Medicine hospitals — Harborview, Northwest, UW Medical Center and Valley Medical — will get doses from the initial shipment, followed by more a week or so later, Gregg said.

The first recipients of these vaccines will be health care workers and first responders caring for Covid patients, as well as residents and staff at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, according to the state Department of Health.

Roberts estimates the first priority group (known as “1a”) will be vaccinated by mid-January, though it depends on how many of them decide to get the vaccine, she said.

The Department of Health is not releasing the names of the locations, partially for security concerns but also, “really just helping manage the pressure around that, helping make sure we’re getting those doses to the right people,” Roberts said.

The state expects to receive around 62,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first allocation and a total of 222,000 doses by the end of this month (including the first shipment).

Doses should start arriving weekly from the federal government starting in January. The state will receive an estimated 180,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of December, assuming it gets FDA authorization, Roberts said.

Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue doesn’t know if it is among those hospitals receiving the first shipment, chief medical officer Dr. David Knoepfler said over email.

“We are completely dependent on Washington State Department of Health’s distribution plan and awaiting final word on actual delivery," he said.

"They are indicating possible delivery on 12/15/20 to the first tier hospitals – we do not know yet if we are one of those, but are optimistic given our ability to provide ultra-cold storage.”

Health care workers will be vaccinated by nurses and some volunteer physicians in a large auditorium so they can socially distance, Knoepfler said.

To mitigate for any possible vaccine side effects, Overlake plans to administer the vaccine to clinicians at the end of their shift for people who will be off for two days, and stagger units or a department.

“For example, we would never vaccinate an entire team or group of clinicians all at once that work on the same unit – that risk a large number of them being out of work all at the same time,” he said.

This all assumes that the vaccine will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which meets tomorrow. The committee could issue an emergency authorization anytime between Friday to Monday, according to an Operation Warp Speed call in late November that included Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state.

After that, a scientific safety workgroup of western states will review the vaccine, which is expected to take a day or two while the vaccine is en route in shipping, according to the state Department of Health.

Washington is getting a share of the national supply of vaccines proportional to its population of people over 18.

Children will probably be closer to the end of the line for Covid vaccinations, if the state follows an initial framework developed by the National Academy of Medicine earlier this year and referenced in the state’s draft vaccine distribution plan. The state is also awaiting future guidance from the CDC.

The exact number of doses for each state will “bounce back and forth week to week,” said Gen. Gustave Perna said at US. Department of Health and Human Services briefing on Wednesday. The number of vaccines depends on how many have been approved for distribution, but the formula will remain the same, he said.

Each state, including Washington, then determines which groups get priority. The federal government is holding 500,000 doses in reserve during the first batch of distribution, just in case.

“We’re going to roll vaccine doses as they come, but we’re not sure they will come exactly as planned,” said Dr. Moncef Slaoui, an advisor to Operation Warp Speed.

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