The Seattle Fire Department will begin vaccinating residents of adult family homes across the city on Thursday after the city was approved as a distributor of COVID-19 vaccines late last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced.
Durkan formulated the new push as the first in a major urban effort to distribute the vaccine to locations across the city.
“We have to get these shots from the refrigerator into people’s arms,” she said. “We hope that, if we are constantly supplied, we can set up mass vaccination stations next to our test sites.”
The city has been running four free coronavirus test sites for months, which have seen more than 556,000 tests run, according to city officials.
Durkan said the city had spoken to Seattle Public Schools about potentially using school facilities to set up vaccination sites.
“It really has to be an all-hands-on-deck approach,” she said, stressing that King County needs to vaccinate 1.3 million people to reach 70% of its adult population, with 2.6 million shots fired . “It’s an endeavor our country has never done before, not on this scale.”
In this first step, the fire department paramedics go door to door in adult family homes that are not served through a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens. There are about 100 such facilities in town, said fire chief Harold Scoggins, each with about eight to 10 residents and employees.
Family houses for adults serve both older adults and people with disabilities in a residential setting. There are more than 3,300 adult family homes in Washington, according to the State Department of Social and Health Services, although it’s unclear how many of them can be serviced by CVS and Walgreens.
According to official reports, the Seattle Fire will vaccinate residents and workers in the homes.
It will deploy two mobile vaccination teams, each with a paramedic or paramedic to fire the shots and two other staff members to verify identifications and gather information for the state vaccine tracking system, Scoggins said.
The city has requested an initial delivery of 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which it plans to distribute within two weeks.
Seattle Fire plans to complete the first round of vaccination by January 24th and the second dose by February 21st.
Since receiving vaccines in mid-December, the state has struggled quickly to vaccinate the most vulnerable: long-term care residents and health care workers. CVS and Walgreens, who were hired to set up vaccination clinics in long-term care facilities, messed up vaccination clinic planning after weeks of waiting for government approval.
Seattle Fire is the first Washington emergency medical services agency to receive state approval to begin vaccination, Scoggins said. The Washington State Department of Health approved Seattle Fire as a vaccine dealer on Saturday.
But it was a long process. The city first filed for approval in late November, Scoggins said, and had to go through a number of steps including demonstrating that they could properly store (in below zero freezers) and handle the vaccine.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said last week the Department of Health told him there were about 2,000 health care providers waiting to be approved as vaccine distributors and that they had cited staffing issues for the backlog.
The state health department did not answer questions about the provider approval and backlog.
Washington is currently in the early stages of vaccine distribution, with priority given to healthcare workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities. The next phase of vaccination will be for people over the age of 70 and people over 50 who live in multi-generational households.
The state is responsible for setting the eligibility criteria for vaccines.
Durkan said she was frustrated with the slow pace of vaccine distribution but found the whole world is in the same boat.
She compared it to the city’s struggle last spring to get enough coronavirus test materials and called it “Deja Vu again”.
“We finally got the vaccine that can give hope,” said Durkan. “We’re really going to count on the federal government to provide a stable source.”