Washington hospital leaders: Not opening up vaccine eligibility could be fueling rise in cases

SEATTLE — Some hospital leaders are hopeful that Washington will open its vaccine eligibility before May 1, citing concerns that leaving younger demographics unvaccinated could be driving the state’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association, says it’s important to protect those most at-risk, but that it’s also tough to ignore that rises in case counts can be traced back to younger populations not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“The states that are seeing an uptick are seeing transmission fueled by people in that 25, 30, 35 age range — they’re not eligible but they’re spreading it,” she said.

Daniel Getz, chief medical officer for Spokane’s Providence Medical Center, agrees, emphasizing that what matters most is vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible.

“There’s no wrong person to vaccinate,” Getz said. “The quicker we can get everyone vaccinated, the quicker we’re through this.”

And while Washington state’s leaders, including the governor, have been adamant that there are more at-risk people they’d like to get vaccinated before opening up eligibility on May 1, over 30 other states have opted to move forward regardless.

That includes California, Texas, and New York, all of which announced recently that they would be making all residents ages 16 and older eligible prior to May 1. According to Sauer, Washington largely stands alone in terms of the restrictions it has placed on its vaccination tiers.

“When I talk to my colleagues around the country, we have considerably more rules than most other states do right now about who can be vaccinated,” she noted.

Even so, Gov. Jay Inslee has intimated that it’s unlikely Washington will follow the lead of other states in expanding eligibility, citing a lack of adequate supply of doses from the federal government.

“It’s one thing to be eligible for that vaccine and it’s another to actually be able to get it,” he said in a recent press conference. “So just because a governor says ‘I’ve opened this [to be] available to everybody,’ it doesn’t mean he or she has delivered it to people.”

“We want people to get vaccines, not just be eligible for them,” he added.