Planning for COVID-19 vaccine access at King County

Message from Whitney Abrams, Chief People Officer, & Brenda Bauer, Deputy Chief Operating Officer

Dear employee,

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive in Washington state this week. This is an exciting development in the pandemic response, and the county, particularly Public Health staff, are working hard on plans, preparations, and communications to ensure equitable access to the vaccine in King County.

Who will receive the early doses?

Initial doses of the vaccine have strict “ultracold” storage requirements with special freezers that are typically found only in certain hospitals. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) will distribute the vaccine and prioritize the initial limited supplies for high-risk workers in healthcare settings and adults in long-term care facilities in accordance with guidance from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

A relatively small number of doses will come to King County in the first weeks and will mainly be delivered to a small number of healthcare facilities that have the equipment to meet the vaccine’s stringent “ultracold” storage requirements. In the first shipments, there will not be nearly enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who is eligible, but we have been told to expect supplies to increase each week.

According to the state’s prioritization framework, the first group to be vaccinated are workers in healthcare settings and those working in Long Term Care Facilities (LTCFs) who meet all of these recommended criteria:

  • Have direct patient contact with known or suspected COVID-19 cases
  • Unable to telework
  • Handle infectious materials
  • Have not had a known COVID-19 infection in the 90 days prior to vaccination

King County workers who may be eligible

Public Health workers who meet these criteria will be eligible to receive the vaccine from early shipments. However, the first shipments will be small, so even eligible workers may need to may need to wait more than a week or two. Supervisors will reach out to eligible staff to provide instructions about vaccination.

Larger supplies of vaccine are expected to be available in mid-2021, and as supplies of vaccine gradually increase, more people will become eligible for vaccination. The state Department of Health is still working to prioritize all other essential workers for future distributions we receive from the federal government; we anticipate better knowing the state’s priorities and the tiering for employees in the coming weeks. Public Health will update the COVID-19 vaccine website with information about current eligibility and supply. Eventually there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants to get vaccinated.

What you can do to help

Understandably, many people have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, and unfortunately, misinformation is plentiful. Current and accurate information will be available at Public Health’s webpage and from social media (@KCPubHealth).

A safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 is a major break-through. But vaccine alone won’t end the pandemic right away. Even after a vaccine is available, stopping the pandemic will continue to require (at least for the next few months) everyone – even if vaccinated – to continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least six feet away from others, limiting activities outside the home and avoiding crowds, washing hands often, following CDC travel guidance, and following quarantine guidance after an exposure to someone with COVID-19.

The effort to make vaccine available to most of the US population in a relatively short time frame is a gargantuan undertaking and there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way. Thank you for continuing COVID-19 safety precautions and for all the work you do for our community. With your help, we will be able to limit the impacts of this virus and move towards more normalcy in our lives.

Whitney Abrams, Chief People Officer
Brenda Bauer, Deputy Chief Operating Officer