Gov. Inslee immediately expands vaccine eligibility in Washington to include teachers, childcare workers

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that the state is immediately expanding vaccine eligibility to include teachers and childcare workers.

This group is now moving to phase 1B-1, which means educators and licensed childcare workers can immediately start scheduling appointments.

This comes after President Joe Biden issued a directive earlier in the day urging states to prioritize vaccinations for teachers. The president also announced that there will be enough vaccines for all adults in the U.S. by the end of May, two months earlier than expected.

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“We will continue our progress in getting every Washingtonian vaccinated. I am grateful for the partnership of the federal government and their efforts to help move educators up in the prioritization,” Inslee said.

The Phase Finder tool will take time to reflect the change.

Inslee also said that he will soon be announcing when the state will be moving to the phase that includes essential workers in congregate settings, including grocery stores, farmworkers and bus drivers.

He added that the current phase of vaccinations will continue as planned, and the state will continue focusing on those most at risk, including older adults and “those facing equity gaps.”

The announcement answers calls from teachers unions across the state who want educators to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom.

“We thank President Biden for taking active steps to ensure adequate vaccine production and distribution to speed up vaccine access for all American adults, and for prioritizing educators. This should bring a huge sense of relief for educators who have been working in-person for weeks or months,” said Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association.

But some counties are already voicing concern about the vaccine supply.

During a Snohomish County vaccine distribution town hall, multiple leaders pointed out that the county is dealing with shortage issues.

Last week, Snohomish County received about 33,000 doses. This week, it received 13,000 – with only about 3,000 of that allocated towards first shots.

“We will pivot quickly,” said Jason Biermann, the director of emergency management for Snohomish County. “We simply don’t have enough vaccine right now for all of our sites,” headed.

Another point that should help with the supply issue - the directive to vaccinate teachers and licensed childcare workers will be carried out through pharmacies under the “Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.” In Washington State, those pharmacies include Walmart, Kroger (QFC & Fred Meyer), Rite Aid, Safeway Albertsons, Costco, and some independent pharmacy chains.

Those pharmacies will be allocated vaccine through a federal supply and not impact the amount the state receives. However, it’s not clear yet when those pharmacies will start getting additional federal supply, or which vaccine they will receive.

Seattle Public Schools said it’s hopeful the change will be implemented quickly and will help improve the ongoing bargaining process, “leading to a smoother way forward as we work to open schools for our students,” the district said in an email.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal also released a statement.

“We expect this priority on vaccinations for school employees will speed up the timeline for many districts who are working to begin or expand in-person learning,” he said.