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King County to open free, high-volume vaccine sites

Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
Registered nurse Allison Miller administers one of the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations at UW Medicine on Dec. 15, 2020, in Seattle.

King County public health officials estimate that it will take six months to vaccinate enough people to tamp down the coronavirus pandemic, even with an aggressive plan to vaccinate 16,000 people per day.

To speed up the process, county officials plan to open two high-volume vaccination clinics. They anticipate the effort will begin by Feb. 1, according to County Executive Dow Constantine. 

Constantine, a Democrat, said the goal is in part to make up for supply-chain problems that have slowed the vaccine rollout so far.

In a news conference Friday, Constantine called the Trump administration's vaccine rollout "sadly consistent with the general incompetence and lack of discipline with which it has handled all of the pandemic."

"It is up to us to make this work," Constantine said, "just as it has been up to us to set up high-volume testing centers across the region, isolation and quarantine facilities, safe places for those who have no place to call their own, and so much more."

Officials said the clinics may be located in South King County, which has seen high rates of coronavirus infection.

Vaccines at the site will be free of charge, officials said. The county will still follow the state's phased vaccine rollout plan that prioritizes some groups, such as health-care workers and others at high risk, before those at lower risk.

At the current pace of vaccination, it will take several more weeks to finish vaccinating people in the highest priority group, known as Phase 1A, which includes health-care workers, first responders and people who live and work in long-term care facilities, said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health — Seattle and King County.

Hayes anticipated more challenges ahead.

"The rollout over the next several months will be dependent on many things," she said. "I anticipate we will continue to experience an inadequate supply chain for both the vaccine and other needed materials, as well as the challenge of mobilizing and already stretched health care workforce to serve as vaccinators."

King County officials also said they would launch five mobile teams to vaccinate people who might have trouble reaching a clinic, such as people who are homeless or confined to long-term care facilities.

Officials said they are devoting $7 million to the vaccination clinics and mobile teams and hope to be reimbursed by the federal and state governments.

Vaccination efforts started in King County in December. Public health officials estimate the county will have to vaccinate 70 percent of adults, or 1.26 million people, to contain the virus enough that the region can fully reopen.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.