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WA Mass Vaccination Sites Open, With Retired Gen. Mattis Among Those Getting The Poke In Tri-Cities

Courtesy of City of Richland
Hundreds of cars lined up for the opening day of a mass vaccination event in Washington's Tri-Cities on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, at the Benton County Fairgrounds.

It was kind of like the fair — only not. 

On Monday the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick, Wash., were full of port-a-potties, event tents, people in bright vests directing traffic and hundreds of cars. But it’s bitter winter, not summer. There’s no cotton candy. And the smiles of patrons are briefer, with a solemn edge.

About 500 people made it into line at the COVID-19 mass vaccination event in the Tri-Cities. This is part of a larger set of mass events across the state kicking off this week — including clinics in Spokane, Wenatchee and Ridgefield, in Clark County. 

First in line at 4 a.m. was Guy Cook from Walla Walla, who drove through the dark and snow to get vaccinated. 

“My youngest son says if I get a shot I can see the granddaughter. Her name is Zuzu,” Cook said. “She is just at that age -- she can just barely walk, but she’d rather crawl. She’s that little. So getting that, that’s a big plus.”

Cook and others drove through a tent, two cars abreast, getting their shots in the arm from National Guard nurses. 

Others traveled great distances to get their shots. Richland resident Dwane Renberger was in Oklahoma, so he packed his van with food and two sub-zero sleeping bags to get his shot in the arm. 

“Drove all day Thursday, all day Friday and got here noon on Saturday,” Renberger said. “I left with zero miles on this [van], and I have almost 1,800 miles on in two and half days” 

National Guard nurses were distributing the Moderna vaccine Monday, but they expect to add the Pfizer vaccine as the site continues for several weeks. 

One notable Tri-Cities resident who went through the process on Monday: former U.S. defense secretary and retired General James Mattis. 

Credit Anna King / NW News Network
Former U.S. defense secretary and retired Gen. James Mattis, a longtime Tri-Cities resident, was among those in line for a COVID-19 vaccine in Kennewick, Wash., on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

People who are seeking and eligible for a vaccine must register an appointment here if using one of the mass vaccination sites in the Tri-Cities or Wenatchee.

Vaccine-seekers should print out their proof of eligibility from the state’s Phase Finder site and be prepared to wait for long periods of time in their vehicles.

Making “tremendous progress”

Anxious seniors still waiting for a vaccination appointment may not believe this, but the Washington state Department of Health says it’s making "tremendous progress" in getting COVID vaccines into more arms. And more of these mass vaccination sites are in the works.

Assistant Washington health secretary Michele Roberts briefed state senators Monday on the vaccination drive. She celebrated a milestone of sorts: more than half a million shots of COVID vaccine now administered across the state since the first doses arrived in mid-December.

"It's not been without challenges in the first weeks as everybody knows -- especially with the holidays happening and working through some data reporting barriers -- but we have really turned the corner,” Roberts said.

As of Saturday night, nearly 6% percent of people in Washington have received at least the first dose of COVID vaccine.

Roberts says limited supply remains the biggest roadblock to significantly stepping up the pace. She announced that DOH is organizing three more state-run mass vaccination sites to join four others that opened this week.

The new supersites will be coming soon to Bellingham, Bremerton and Lacey, all in western Washington. They will supplement the previously announced sites in Clark County, the Tri-Cities, Wenatchee and Spokane.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.
Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.