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JBLM opens vaccinations to all military members, family members 16 and older

It's a move to expand vaccine distribution that Washington state will follow Thursday.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The military's vaccine rollout for service members and their families is just a few days a head of Washington state’s.

On Monday morning, anyone 16 or older receiving health care coverage through the Department of Defense became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Now we’re here and we’re going on the offense – we were taking a defensive posture last year," said Major Edward Murray, an Army public health nurse with the 47th Combat Support Hospital. "This time we’re going on the offense. Coming out and being able to vaccinate more people than we have before."

One year ago Murray was part of the Army’s effort to convert what was then the CenturyLink Event Center into a field hospital. That hospital never saw a patient.

A year later Murray is overseeing the vaccination efforts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).

“Would I take it? Would I recommend this vaccine for my family? Of course I would. I trust the scientific community. I looked at the research myself. I am happy getting this vaccine and happy giving it to others,” Murray said. 

Military members are not required to receive the vaccine but are encouraged to do so.

Vaccine distribution will expand to everyone 16 and older in Washington state on Thursday, April 15. The expanded distribution comes at a time when the hospitalization rates are rising for the first time in weeks, according to the Washington State Hospital Association.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced three counties, including Pierce County where JBLM is located, would be rolling back to Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan due to rising COVID-19 case rates in the past few weeks. Pierce County's case rate was 268 per 100,000 people between March 20 and April 2, with a hospitalization rate of 6.4 between March 24 and March 30. 

When it comes to getting more people vaccinated, vaccine supply remains the biggest challenge.

“We have a lot of work to do across our state to really reach those vulnerable populations because there has been a little bit of a disconnect between the vaccine and where we’ve seen cases,” said Dr. Tim Dellit, chief medical officer for UW Medicine.

Dellit said there is a vaccine waitlist of more than 30,000 people, but many organizations report receiving fewer doses than ordered from the federal government. 

“We’re probably getting half of what we order,” Dellit said.

A three-week forecast from the federal government shows there will be a "substantial decrease" in the number of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses being delivered to Washington state facilities. 

On April 1, the state expected to receive 109,000 Johnson & Johnson doses in the first full week of April, and 41,000 each week for the following two weeks.

Now, the state expects 12,900 Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses for the week of April 11, and 4,300 doses in subsequent weeks.