Rocky rollout: massive vaccine demand, uncertain supply, website troubles

Almost as soon as Washington state rolled out its PhaseFinder website, it crashed. The next morning, the Department of Health website that has a vaccine location list — a partial one at least — also crashed.

The state is now vaccinating people in phase 1A or phase 1B/tier 1, but many people who were able to access the sites said they’re finding all slots are booked for months.

But some seniors are finding success.

“I have it scheduled tomorrow morning at 8:06 a.m.,” said Victor Sansalone, who is getting his shot through Swedish Health and Seattle University. “I’m excited about it because I’m 87 years old,” he said.

He said though family members live in the area, he and his wife had only seen them through Zoom for much of the past year.

“It is definitely relief,” said Joseph Garcia, who has an appointment next week. “It shows there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

People who are eligible include:

  • Workers in health care settings (1a).
  • High-risk first responders (1a).
  • 65 years and older (1b/tier 1).
  • 50 years and older who reside in a multi-generational household, i.e., home where individuals from two or more generations reside, such as an elder and a grandchild (1b/tier 1).

However, there are about 1.5 million people in Washington state who qualify to get the vaccine, and the state is currently getting about 100,000 doses per week. Hospitals also stated they have no idea how much of the vaccine they’re getting each week and are not alerted to shipments or shipment volumes until Sunday night for a Monday shipment, for example.

That means some hospitals like Swedish are releasing appointments weekly.

UW Medicine is booking further out and stated between Sunday and Monday that it had booked more than 10,000 seniors for appointments.

Some health care providers, like Kittitas Valley Healthcare, also stated the state’s DOH site has errors in the list of places to get a vaccine.

“The DOH link has sites in our county that were never enrolled in vaccine, and other sites that are enrolled are not listed there. So that’s probably causing some of the confusion. That site isn’t accurate at this point,” said Mandee Olsen of Kittitas Valley Healthcare.

For just about every vaccination clinic, you do need an appointment. Many say you must present your ID on-site. A questionnaire you fill out determines if you’re in the right phase, but getting an appointment is ultimately based on the honor system.

“The health care system and the vaccinators are not in the business of policing and trying to authenticate eligibility,” said Dr. Chris Dale, the chief quality officer at Swedish Heath.

The booking website reads: “Please keep in mind, falsifying eligibility takes a dose away from someone in even greater need.”

Still, Dale said based on posts they’ve seen on social media, they are aware of some people not following the rules.

“There are people who, you know, jump the line,” Dale said.

But overall, they believe patients are being honest.

“The vast, vast majority of Washingtonians respect the staging and the phasing. We all want this to get better as quickly as possible,” Dale said.

Some hospitals, such as MultiCare, offer an option for patients who live within minutes of a vaccination clinic to register and be part of an on-call list. That’s in case someone misses an appointment, and there are extra doses at the end of the day.

“At MultiCare, wastage is less than 0.25%. The Moderna vials have 10-11 doses. You’re counting heads, counting appointments. However, if you have a no-show or two, MultiCare has developed an on-call list, in case we find ourselves in that situation,” said Jane Altaras of MultiCare Health System.

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