'We are ready to go:' COVID-19 vaccination could begin Tuesday in Washington, Inslee says

The first COVID-19 vaccinations in Washington state could be administered Tuesday, Gov Jay Inslee said.

“We are ready to go,” Inslee said at a news conference Sunday.

On Sunday the first shipments of a virus vaccine for widespread use in the United States were sent from Michigan to distribution centers. About 3 million doses were expected to be sent out.

The first batches of the vaccine should arrive in the state by Monday, Inslee said, following approval by federal officials and a review board set up by Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. Inslee said the Western States Scientific Safety Review committee examined data from federal officials.

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The initial doses in Washington state will go to health workers and people in long-term care facilities, the governor said, but it will be months before it is available to much of the broader population.

Inslee said the state is waiting for guidance from federal officials before decisions are made about how to distribute the vaccine beyond the initial groups.

“These are not easy decisions,” he said.

The Department of Health has said the state expects to get about 62,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine initially. The state has about 7.5 million residents.

Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health, said the initial virus doses will go to 40 facilities in 29 counties around the state.

The ultimate goal is to have 70% of the state population with COVID-19 immunity, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer of the Department of Health. Authorities say they believe that level of immunity, through vaccination and immunity gained by people who have recovered from the virus, would significantly halt its spread.

Washington expects to receive about 180,000 doses of another vaccine by Moderna by the end of December if it is approved for use.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States was in Washington in January. The state also saw the nation’s first deadly outbreak at a nursing home. Since the start of the pandemic there have been about 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington and more than 2,800 deaths.

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Inslee said the 17-member Western states review group, which OK’d the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday, was set up because of concerns that politics could intrude on the vaccination review process. But Inslee said the panel found that was not the case with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I have not been shy about criticizing the federal government over the last several years,” said the Democrat, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump. “The FDA, the CDC, did their jobs.”

Lofy said the federal review process of the Pfizer vaccine was rigorous and that it is safe and effective.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.