Vaccine eligibility to expand to 16 and older in May

Tribe already able to provide shots to 18 and above

North Olympic Peninsula residents 16 and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning May 1, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

Inslee also said the state is adopting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines allowing school districts to place students within 3 feet of each other so long as mask wearing and ventilation standards continue.

The Peninsula will be prepared to expand vaccinations by May 1, but local health officers remind people that, while they qualify for appointments, providing the shots will still be limited by vaccine amounts, so not everyone will be able to sign up that day.

“I think it’s great,” said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer. “It’s definitely in line with where we are as a county.

“I think we’ll be very ready to open to everyone in May. I’m hopeful that we can open the tiers even more in the month prior in April, but I think we’ll be very ready to vaccinate all people over the age of 16 beginning May 1.”

Currently only Pfizer’s vaccine is approved by Emergency Use Authorization for 16-year-olds and older, while Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines are approved for people 18 and older, so 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to receive only Pfizer’s vaccine, Berry said.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said he’s glad to see eligibility become less complicated on May 1.

“We’re finding that people are having a very hard time determining whether they’re eligible or not,” Locke said. “We can’t tell either in many cases because one part of the priorities says they’re eligible and another part says they’re not.

“I think the states that have done well are the ones that have kept things simple, and Washington state has sort of made things as complicated as they could,” Locke continued.

“I think that might’ve made some sense at the beginning, when we were really trying to target the elderly and these high-risk populations, but now it’s just getting in the way of our ability to vaccinate people. I’ll be glad when the restrictions are gone.”

Clallam County school districts are maintaining 6-foot distances among students, due to the 3-foot difference having little effect on adding more students and making major changes to the district this late in the school year will only hamper districts, Berry said.

“There’s only a few weeks left in class, so it would actually be pretty disruptive to move to 3 feet right now,” she said. “In Clallam, we’re lucky that we’ve had students in class longer than much of the rest of the state, whereas places like Seattle are still building their protocols to even get preschools back.

Berry said many new cases are in children, “so we’re very concerned that if we start moving kids closer together, we’re going to start seeing transmission in schools, and we’re going to have to start quarantining entire classrooms, which is even more disruptive.”

Locke began discussions with the Jefferson County school districts earlier this week, but as of Thursday, no decisions about distancing had been made, he said.

Appointments for the Jamestown Sequim Clinics on March 30 and April 1 for Clallam residents 18 and older were still available as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Appointments can be made at http://vaccine.clallam.net/register. Appointments also can be made by phone at 360-417-2430.

All other vaccination clinics are in the state’s 1B2 category of critical workers in congregate settings such as grocery stores, food banks, agriculture, courts, jails and corrections, as well as first responders not vaccinated under 1A, and people older than 16 who are pregnant or who have disabilities that put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications.

Those deemed eligible under previous tiers remain eligible for shots.

Appointments for the Port Angeles High School clinics on Saturday and Sunday are full.

The Chimacum High School clinic on Saturday has appointments available for Jefferson County residents who are eligible under 1B2 and previous phases. Appointments can be made online at bit.ly/jeffcovax or by calling 360-344-9791.

Appointments for Jefferson Healthcare’s clinic can be made at https://jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine, and people are asked to fill out the Phase Finder tool, but it’s not required to bring the printed sheet, said Amy Yaley, hospital spokesperson.

Those using the Chimacum clinic are asked to fill out the state’s Phase Finder tool, print the eligibility sheet and bring it with them to their vaccination appointment. Clallam County doesn’t require that.

Clallam County confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and has confirmed 45 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 4.3 percent of the 1,046 cases confirmed during the past year, according to county data.

Jefferson County has confirmed eight cases this month, about 2.33 percent of the 344 cases confirmed in the past year, according to county Public Health data.

Fourteen COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had five active cases.

Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of about 25 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Saturday, while Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 32 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior to Thursday.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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