FILE — Inslee mask

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, shown last week, announced Thursday that he was loosening the state plan guiding COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. 

(The Center Square) – Washington state is moving up its COVID vaccine eligibility to April 15 for everyone ages 16 and up.

The decision comes after a dozen states including California, Illinois, Idaho, and Florida, are also moving up priority shots to the general public to the same date weeks ahead of the May 1 deadline recommended by the Biden administration.

In total, 46 states plus the District of Columbia plan on opening up vaccinations to the general public by no later than May 1. Alaska was the first state to make shots available to the general public this month while others like Utah, Arizona, and Mississippi have followed.

This week, Washington began priority vaccinations for people with underlying conditions, grocery store employees, farmworkers, and other people considered frontline workers.

In Washington, 3.3 million people are halfway through the vaccination process and another million more are fully vaccinated, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) reports. On Tuesday, the DOH reported 102 "breakthrough cases" of the virus among those fully vaccinated which sent eight people to the hospital and resulted in the deaths of two seniors with underlying conditions. The cases represent less than .001% of all vaccinated patients across the state.

"It is important to remember that every vaccine on the market right now prevents severe disease and death in most cases," said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah. "People should still get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, and encourage friends, loved ones, and co-workers to do the same." 

The two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were approved by the FDA last winter and estimated to be 95% effective in preventing COVID symptoms based on late state human trial data. The FDA-approved, one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about 66% effective in preventing mild to moderate symptoms of the virus. It is 85% effective against hospitalization and death from COVID. No vaccine is yet approved for minors under the age 16 as human trials proceed.

According to the CDC's COVID Tracker, about 18% of Washington is fully vaccinated against the virus while another 30% are halfway there. J&J shots are listed by the DOH as "first doses."

Washington's weekly allocation of vaccines has risen to six figures over the past few months. Starting the week of April 15, the DOH reports the state will receive another 412,570 doses from the federal government or 6% less than the amount requested. The state is currently averaging 55,000 new shots a day with 17% of its vaccine stockpile still in reserve.

Concerns abound over the nation's vaccine supply chain after a factory error cost the country 15 million J&J shots last week, the New York Times reports.

As the state of 7.6 million people begins reopening in earnest, cases are once again on the rise. Data from the DOH shows weekly case counts have risen by about 20% from 5,044 at the beginning of March to 6,401 this week. The agency estimates the person to person transmission rate in the state stood at 1.28 at the start of the month.

More concerning, the DOH reports new COVID strains have reached 600 cases total in the state since January. They include 152 cases of the strain first discovered in the United Kingdom through to be more contagious and 16 cases of a strain from South Africa believed to be vaccine resistant. The DOH did not disclose whether these new strains were responsible for the 102 breakthrough cases it reported.

Gov. Jay Inslee warned the public to continue social distancing and wearing face masks in the meantime as the state's vaccine rollout continues.

"Current COVID-19 trends across the state are concerning, and we must do everything possible to ensure we keep cases down," Inslee said. "Now is the time to stay diligent. We’re not out of the woods yet."

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.