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Why Seattle suddenly had hundreds of open COVID-19 vaccine appointments

For weeks, people eligible for the vaccine have been frustrated by the scarcity of available shots. Now there are hundreds of open spots. What happened?

SEATTLE — The City of Seattle made a surprising announcement this week: Hundreds of vaccine appointments at sites in West Seattle and Rainier Beach were unfilled, and the city needed eligible people 65 and older to sign up.

For weeks, many people have been frustrated with how difficult it has been to find available shots. But now community groups and the city are scrambling to get eligible people signed up for appointments.

The city says it got a sudden increase in doses from the state this week, more than double what it was getting in recent weeks.

Community groups are working to expand vaccine access to low-income people, refugees, immigrants, and people of color. The city prioritized those groups for access at the West Seattle and Rainier Beach sites.

But there are still a lot of extra shots, and that’s why the city said it opened availability to anyone 65 and older.

“We need more people on the ground reaching our community to let them know that access is available,” said Cathie Wilmore, with Fathers and Sons Together (FAST), a community group that provides support for families of color. FAST is one of the groups helping people get vaccinated in Rainier Beach by signing them up for appointments over the phone.

“Our community calls from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.," Wilmore said.

Wilmore said FAST's experience has been contrary to public health officials' concerns that people of color would refuse the vaccine.

"They are very eager. The narrative is that they were not signing up, but the reality is they just did not have adequate access to scheduling appointments, it was very, very difficult for them,” Wilmore said.

She said some older residents were not able to navigate the online systems used for vaccine appointments.

Wilmore said FAST has a goal of helping 250 people secure vaccine appointments, and they’re getting close to reaching that goal.

“South Seattle and West Seattle have some of the lowest vaccination rates for older adults in all of King County. It’s critically important that we vaccinate the oldest members of our community, who are most at risk of hospitalization or death,” the city said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the city launched a new online notification list, which lets people know when there are available appointments.

Eligible Seattle residents can sign up for vaccines at the West Seattle and Rainier Beach sites here.

RELATED: Appointments slow to fill at some Washington COVID-19 vaccination sites