King County’s first mass vaccination sites open, but 75+ age limitation sparks confusion

King County’s first mass vaccinations sites opened in Auburn and Kent on Monday, but the sites are currently only available to people 75 and older, as well as other special groups.

The sites are by appointment only, and staff will start off vaccinating 500 people per day, per location:

  • Auburn General Services Administration Complex, 2701 C St SW, Auburn (drive-thru).
  • ShoWare Center, 625 W James St, Kent (inside).

Some who are in the group comprising of those ages 65 and older and technically eligible for the vaccine are finding that the rule change only further adds to the frustration of trying to book an appointment.

It is also sparking confusion about who can get a shot at the new sites.

“It should be 65 and older,” said John Bankenship, who said he hasn’t even bothered trying to book an appointment yet after hearing about all the challenges.

“I don’t think they should’ve changed it,” said another person in Kent, who declined to provide his name.

King County stated supply shortages spurred them to change the criteria at their two sites for now. The county stated last week, it received 22,000 first doses, which is only enough for 1 in 12 who are eligible.

That’s why the county decided to focus the new vaccination sites on the oldest groups. Data shared by the King County Executive’s Office shows that in King County, 66% of deaths from COVID-19 occurred among people 75 and older.

“So want to make sure we get the vaccine to them. We have to protect them. We’re also asking to focus on south King County ZIP codes in these south county facilities because there is simply less access to vaccine here,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine at the Auburn clinic on Monday morning.

“I think it’s a good idea because they have higher risk. You work your way down to a younger crowd,” said Tristan Kwan, who was at the Kent vaccination site with his parents. Kwan’s parents are both 75 years old. He said he’s been checking online whenever possible to try and get them an appointment.

“It’s hard,” Kwan said. “We got one today, so I feel very fortunate,” he said.

The criteria also include people 50 and older who cannot live independently and their caregivers (who do not need to be over 50 years old).

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I have all kinds of sickness in my body, and I’m really scared of COVID because a lot of my friends passed away from it. So I’m happy that I can get it now,” said Cheryl Hipolito, who was at the Kent clinic on Monday. Hipolito said she has diabetes, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), bronchitis, neuropathy and a heart stent.

Others who got their first shots on Monday were surprised to learn they’re eligible.

Michael Bjornson and Chrys Jared-Bjornson are in their 5s and recently got a call from Chrys’ health care advocate.

“I feel really, really happy — really elated that we got the vaccine,” Jared-Bjornson said. “I wasn’t expecting it for a little while. Completely out of the blue,” she said.

Bjornson said he has autoimmune disorders and severe asthma, while Jared-Bjornson said she has a lung problem.

“I hope we weren’t putting somebody else out. There is a slight amount of guilt,” Jared-Bjornson said.

Others eligible to make an appointment at the mass clinics include people  50 and older who live with and care for their kin, such as a grandchild, nephew or niece.

King County stated it will open these sites to those 65and older as soon as there is more supply.