Sequim launches WA’s first mass vaccination site, bringing massive lines

Other counties gearing up

SEQUIM, Wash. — The first mass vaccination site in the state launched in Sequim and brought long lines of seniors ready to get their shots.

“People were honking the horns and waving and rolling down the windows. It was like a party atmosphere,” said Brent Simcosky, director of health services for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

Their health network serves about 17,000 people, most of whom are not tribe members. Their first vaccination event of many planned was intended for Sequim seniors.

Thousands of seniors showed up — some camping out the night before — ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There was a guy who camped out in his VW camper van with the pop-up top. He was there at 8 p.m. the day before and had a BBQ grill out and was barbecuing hamburgers. It was like a tailgate party,” Simcosky said.

Simcosky said on Thursday, the day of their first vaccination event, he woke up at 4 a.m.

“Because I was worried about what the volume would be. (I) drove up and saw all the cars and I was like, ‘Uh-oh.’ We literally had cars clear out onto Highway 101, and it was clogging up the highway,” Simcosky said.

They were able to vaccinate 500 cars, or about 600 people. “We turned away 1500 cars,” Simcosky said. But now he says they know where to cut off the line of cars for the next event.

Simcosky says they chose to open the vaccine to seniors a little early because their rollout of the vaccine to Group 1a, primarily health care workers, was sluggish.

“To be honest with you, we were seeing maybe a 50% vaccination rate. So we were thinking, ‘Oh boy,’” he said.

So they teamed up with other groups in Clallam County — the fire district, police, and the Community Emergency Response Team — to open up vaccinations to the 70 and older age group a little early in Sequim.

The seniors flocked over.

“When the seniors came, they had their arms hanging out the window and they got their sleeves rolled up. They’re ready to go!” Simcosky said.

James Castell’s grandparents were in the line, and he captured the massive volume of cars with his drone.

“I couldn’t believe it. It looked like it went past town,” Castell said.

Castell says he and the kids used to see his grandparents all the time — they live close by — but not since the pandemic.

“It’s been really hard,” Castell said. “Because of the risk factor they’re probably the ones who’ve sacrificed the most, really quarantining, staying at home,” he said.

His grandparents waited about 90 minutes before getting turned away.

“They showed up, they were about 15 minutes late. I think they missed it by about 20 cars,” he said.

Other counties are also planning their mass vaccination sites. Pierce County announced some preliminary details this week about their plans.

“In Pierce County, we’re really excited,” said Jody Ferguson, the Pierce County Emergency Management director.

Ferguson said they’re planning to have three large mass vaccination sites in areas like large parking lots with the capacity to hold eight lanes of cars.

KIRO7 asked if Cheney Stadium or the Tacoma Dome were being considered.

“We’re not leaving anything off the table right now,” Ferguson said.

She said the holdup is primarily getting enough vaccine supply.

“We’re hoping to do 4600 vaccines a day as a starting point. So if we can get the supply chain moving, we should be ready to go,” Ferguson said.

The goal for Pierce County is to get the mass vaccination sites launched by the end of January or early February. Pierce County will also have more mobile vaccination clinics, similar to COVID test clinics, as well as “drop teams” to go into facilities to vaccinate people.