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Washington seniors frustrated by lack of COVID-19 vaccine appointments

The state may still be weeks away from moving into Phase 1B-Tier 2, but the conversation has many seniors, who have yet to find an appointment, stressing.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — Many seniors in western Washington are growing increasingly frustrated as the state starts talks about moving into the next tier of the COVID-19 vaccine plan, while many still can’t find an appointment.

"I have been trying for weeks to secure the vaccine - it seems Impossible!" wrote KING 5 viewer Sally Johnson in an email. "I am eligible as a 1B. I am 83-years-old... I have major heart problems and am in early stage heart failure."

KING 5's Vaccine Taskforce email inbox has been flooded with frustrated seniors just like Johnson who are unable to book an appointment.

"As a state, we're still well below 50% [of those eligible, vaccinated] so we have work to do to catch everybody up," said Michele Roberts, the assistant secretary of health for the state Department of Health (DOH).

The state may still be weeks away from moving into Phase 1B-Tier 2 of vaccinations, but the conversation has many seniors, who have yet to find an appointment, stressing.

"A lot of these things are pretty invisible, but there are ways that vaccine is getting to the people who need it most and may not have access to the more traditional health care systems or other ways of scheduling appointments," Roberts said.

State health leaders said they're working on a new system to benefit seniors while hosting pop-up clinics and mobile vaccine units to up access in communities that need it most.

RELATED: Volunteers build 'easier, less frustrating' COVID-19 vaccine website for Washington

In Snohomish County, the work is a little more out in the open.

"We previously mentioned a new appointment system coming online soon. Our team got access to it late last week and are doing internal testing and training of staff," said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District

When seniors complained, Snohomish County made a call center to help.
The county is also expected to release a new, easier-to-navigate website that even has a waitlist. 

But none of this solves the problem right now.

"I wish we had more vaccine, and had vaccine for everyone who wants it right now," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County.

But Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine has health leaders excited. If approved, it means a lot more doses will be available.

"The bottom line is, we can't wait. We can't wait to have more vaccine in this state. But this vaccine gives us additional promises. So, that's where we're at, waiting for the official process," said Scott Lindquist, epidemiologist for the DOH.

The Johnson & Johnson application for emergency use authorization will be examined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday, Feb. 26.

RELATED: US on verge of coronavirus vaccine breakthrough as manufacturing ramps up