EVERETT, Wash — Washington's ambitious new vaccination plan is already hitting roadblocks. Gov. Jay Inslee wants to vaccinate 45,000 people a day, triple the current rate. But so far, the system is lagging.
On Monday, Inslee announced that Phase 1B would start immediately and he lowered the age threshold from 70 to 65. With more people eligible to receive the vaccine, more people are struggling to find available doses.
Judith Leconte of Seattle was delighted to book a late December appointment for her 102-year-old mother Helen.
"We were given the date of the 28th of December. It was one of the best Christmas presents I could have had, to know my mom is getting a vaccine," said Leconte.
But just as they were preparing for Helen to be immunized, the pharmacy canceled the vaccine appointment and never rescheduled, for no clear reason.
"To get a date and then to have it pulled out from under you is beyond cruel," said Leconte.
Countless people are growing more and more frustrated as the vaccine rollout lags and people who need it languish.
People logging on to the state's PhaseFinder website got error messages on Tuesday. The Department of Health acknowledged the issue and said it is working to gain more bandwidth.
Those who were able to log in found most, if not all, of the slots booked for the foreseeable future.
"I spent 25 minutes waiting on the state hotline and I never got through," said Leconte. "An hour-and-a-half later and I'm still waiting for someone to call me back."
Leconte also questioned the rationale for opening up vaccinations to people in Tier 1B, when many of those in Tier 1A still haven't been vaccinated.
"It doesn't make sense," she said. "If I understand the alphabet B comes after A, I believe."
Health officials in Snohomish County said the problem is an unpredictable supply chain from the federal government.
"We need vaccine to schedule these appointments," said County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters. "We can't schedule appointments unless we know we have vaccine coming. It's a challenge."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told KING 5, "The state is working to stand up its own large vaccination clinics, and many local health departments are doing the same, to help with some of the volume of requests. We will share more information about those when we have it."
She urged patience, adding, "We’re heartened by the sheer number of people in Washington who have logged on to “find their phase” using our tool – this overwhelming interest demonstrates that, collectively, people are ready to get their COVID-19 vaccine and help us end the pandemic as soon as possible."
Meantime, Leconte is grateful for the high-quality care her mom is receiving at Seattle's Norse House retirement home. But she worries, not just about her mom, but all the other people out there who don't have a loved one to help them navigate the system.
"I can imagine the grief and the anguish. Because I'm trying my level best and I'm frustrated and near tears. This is not right," she said. "It's so hard to be this powerless."
Snohomish County set up a hotline for those who do not have internet access and cannot register online.
They can reach the county's COVID Call Center at 425-339-5278.
State officials said, for now, the best thing you can do is call your doctor or pharmacist to see when you can get vaccinated or keep checking the state's website to see when more slots open up.