WENATCHEE — Manson residents Karen and Norm Goode got the email Thursday evening: 200 appointments had opened up at the Town Toyota Center’s mass vaccination site the following day.
Less than 24 hours later they received the COVID-19 vaccine. “I think we just got lucky,” Norm Goode said Friday.
But the state’s recent eligibility expansion and a still-limited supply of vaccine have left thousands of other North Central Washington residents unable to schedule an appointment or sitting on a waiting list. A vaccination system for thousands being built on the fly and rapidly changing information about registration have added to confusion.
Their next opportunity will come at 12 p.m. Sunday, when up to 3,900 Town Toyota Center appointments for next week will be posted on the state Department of Health’s registration website.
The vaccination site, now the largest in the region, could greatly increase capacity if more doses were available, DOH spokesman Cory Portner said Friday.
“We get a limited number of doses allocated to Washington state by the federal government, so we’re just really encouraging folks to still be patient as we wait on more doses,” he said. “But there’s certainly more folks interested in getting the vaccine than we have doses for still.”
The site opened Tuesday, just eight days after it was announced, and has been able to steadily increase its daily appointment total since — 110 people were vaccinated Tuesday, around 400 Wednesday and Thursday and just over 600 Friday.
Registration for the site opened Monday and appointments filled up quickly. A waiting list grew to more than 3,000 names, Portner said.
Thursday evening officials determined that they had the resources to open up around 200 extra appointment times for Friday. They emailed some of those people on the waiting list, including Karen and Norm Goode, and all 200 were taken within 90 minutes.
Everyone on the waitlist who hasn’t gotten an appointment will need to reregister when new appointments are released Sunday, Chelan-Douglas Health District Public Information Officer Jennifer Bushong said Wednesday.
The demand for information and appointments this week also hit Confluence Health, which is also vaccinating eligible residents. It received around 16,000 calls over the week, 2,000 of which were routed to its vaccine hotline, spokesman Andrew Canning said Friday.
Faced with similar vaccine supply limitations, the organization opened up 1,100 appointments at 7 a.m. Monday and they were all booked by 1 p.m. It plans to open up its schedule for new appointments Monday.
As statewide health officials work to roll out the infrastructure to support a historic inoculation campaign, registration websites and phone numbers have sometimes changed, adding to confusion.
More than 200 people have contacted The Wenatchee World this week with questions about the process.
“We can't get a vaccine. We are 1b ready, but no vaccines for the elderly,” one Leavenworth reader wrote, referencing the state’s Phase 1B eligibility phase. “Can we get priority before we die? Thanks, we are registered, calling various sites, to no avail. We did Phase Finder but NO VACCINES. TOO MANY OF US ARE NOT TECH ORIENTED. HELP PLEASE.”
Many people who don’t know that the Town Toyota Center site requires pre-registered appointments, or who struggled to fill out the web-based registration, simply drove to the site this week hoping to be vaccinated on the spot.
On its first day of operation, around 10 people in that situation showed up per hour, said Rich Magnussen with Chelan County Emergency Management, who was helping direct traffic at the site Friday.
“The No. 1 question we’re getting here is from people who have been trying to get on the website and make an appointment and they haven’t been able to,” he said. “Especially with this age group that are qualified right now, they’ve just been driving down here in person to see if we could try to help them with it.”
But the vaccination process itself has largely gone very smoothly, residents and officials said. People with appointments were in and out within about 20 minutes on Friday — including a 15-minute observation time.
“Once people get here with an appointment, everything has been going really good,” Magnussen said. “It’s just about getting that appointment.”
The Chelan-Douglas Health District and the DOH are working to improve the registration process, Portner said. But the single biggest improvement will come when they can increase the number of available appointments.
“We are making sure the doses that are allocated to this mass-vaccination site are all given out and that determines the number of appointments we are able to offer each week,” he said. “The more doses we get, the more appointments we can schedule.”
And there are signs supply may continue to trend upward in the coming weeks. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that Washington’s weekly allotment from the federal government will increase 16% over the coming weeks, The Seattle Times reported.
More than 1.5 million of Washington’s 7.6 million residents are currently eligible for the vaccine and the state is currently receiving about 100,000 first doses per week, the DOH said.
Across North Central Washington’s four counties, 14,453 people have received their first dose, according to the latest DOH data. Of those, 3,396 are fully vaccinated, or about 1.3% of the area’s total population, according to population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
For many of the state sites, including Wenatchee’s, the next challenge will come in three weeks when everyone who’s currently getting their first dose will need to return for their second.
“At that point we’ll need to prioritize folks getting their second doses. There is a time window there that we’ll need to be conscious of at that 21-day mark,” DOH's Portner said.
Officials are hopeful that supply is increasing around the country and "should that trend continue to grow, I think we’ll really have an opportunity to expand the service we have at the site and the number of appointments we can offer," Portner said.
Next week the site will expand again, offering 700 appointments per day. Should supply continue to improve, officials hope that number will ramp up to 1,000 per day.