Newly eligible for shots March 17

SOUTH BEND — With covid-19 vaccines slated to become more widely available in the coming days and weeks, the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department is gearing up to unveil a new system for scheduling vaccine appointments that it hopes will lighten the load on the department’s staff.

The new system for making an appointment comes via the software program PrepMod, according to county health director Katie Lindstrom. The program, once someone is eligible to be vaccinated and there is enough local supply available, will email the individual a unique link that allows the person to schedule their own appointment.

The system used up until this point has consisted of county employees spending hours upon hours on the phone, manually calling people on a waitlist thousands of names long to schedule vaccine appointments.

“It should be a game-changer for us. Up until now, I would say for each day-long vaccine clinic it’s probably two days worth of multiple people working to schedule and do paperwork for [the clinic],” Lindstrom said.

For people who don’t have an email address, or otherwise don’t want to be contacted via email, Lindstrom said they will still continue to manually make calls and schedule appointments over the phone.

Several hundred people are expected to receive first vaccine doses this week, as well as those previously scheduled to receive their second dose.

As of March 13, 11,509 vaccine doses had been given in Pacific County, up from 10,298 doses a week earlier. About 26.7% of county residents have received one vaccine dose, and another 17% have received two doses and are fully vaccinated. Statewide, 2.44 million doses have been given, up from 2.07 million doses a week ago.

New eligibility dates moved up

Along with announcing a host of news related to reopening efforts in the state, Gov. Jay Inslee also announced last week that individuals in Tier 2 of Phase 1B in the state’s vaccine prioritization program are eligible to get vaccinated beginning this Wednesday, March 17 — five days earlier than expected.

The newly eligible groups include critical workers in congregate settings and all people 16 or older who are pregnant or have a disability that puts them at high-risk. Workers that are now eligible include those in agriculture, food processing, grocery stores, public transit, firefighters and law enforcement.

There are tentative plans, Lindstrom said, for providers to go directly to businesses such as seafood processors and vaccinate eligible people at their place of work.

As it stands, individuals age 50 or older with two or more underlying health conditions or co-morbidities are projected to become eligible for vaccination on April 12. On April 26, those age 16 or older with at least two underlying conditions will become eligible, as well as those living in congregate settings, such as prisons or homeless shelters.

Like the aforementioned Tier 2 groups did, Lindstrom hopes the eligibility dates for these priority groups will ultimately be moved up, too.

“I think we’re going to get through this next group that’s eligible pretty quick,” Lindstrom said.

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden called on states to make the vaccine eligible for all adults by May 1. In response later that night, Inslee said that while it’s good the White House is prioritizing all adults to be eligible, he said the state will continue to focus on vaccinating those who are most at risk.

“Then we will turn our attention to the broader population consistent with the president’s announcement tonight,” Inslee said. “In order for widespread and comprehensive vaccination to work, the federal government will need to come through with increased doses and infrastructure.”

Appointments comingLindstrom said those that became eligible on March 17 and have already signed up on the county’s waitlist should be getting contacted to schedule an appointment soon. As of March 15, she said there are currently more outstanding first doses in the county than there were people who were currently eligible but had yet to be vaccinated, a sharp contrast compared to where the county stood earlier in the year.

“We shifted from feeling awful because we couldn’t get everyone an appointment that wanted an appointment, to being like ‘we need more people to sign up.’ It’s been a weird shift and a different dynamic,” Lindstrom said.

Anyone living or working in Pacific County can sign up on the county’s waitlist, regardless of whether they are currently eligible or not. Department staff, Lindstrom said, are able to sort those who sign up for the waitlist into their respective eligibility group, and will reach out to them to schedule a vaccine once their group becomes eligible and there is adequate vaccine supply in the county.

To sign up for the Pacific County vaccine waitlist, visit https://tinyurl.com/2rjnbb4m. The county was also expected to send out a reverse-911 call on March 17, urging people to sign up for the waitlist.

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