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Everyone 16 and older eligible for vaccine on April 15, Inslee says

KUOW Photo / Megan Farmer
Susan Hughes receives a Covid-19 vaccine at the mass vaccination site on March 13, 2021 at Seattle's Lumen Field Event Center.

After months of waiting for Washington's most vulnerable residents to be vaccinated, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that he's relaxing eligibility requirements to include everyone age 16 and older, beginning April 15.

So far about 3.3 million Covid vaccine doses have been administered statewide, Inslee said. More than 1 million people are fully vaccinated in Washington state.

However, 28 percent of people over the age of 65 have still not received a vaccine, Inslee said.

Inslee’s announcement comes after public health officials continue to urge the importance of social distancing and wearing masks, and warn of a potential fourth spike in Covid cases.

“We are seeing a disturbing uptick of cases in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “If we want to avoid a rollback … we need to do everything we can to keep these numbers down now.”

Secretary of Health Umair Shah urged Washingtonians to maintain social distancing practices, even through the upcoming Spring Break and Easter holidays.

“I want to remind everyone to be emotionally together yet physically apart,” Shah said. “We have to do everything we can to fight this pandemic together.”

Vaccine distribution began in Washington state on Dec. 15, and only those who were most vulnerable — including health workers, older adults and people in long-term care facilities — were eligible. On March 31, Washington state opened Covid vaccine eligibility to an additional 2 million people, bringing the total number qualified to 5 million, according to the Washington state Department of Health. That’s nearly all adults in the state.

Washington state follows a flurry of other states that have relaxed eligibility constraints, or announced state plans to provide the vaccine to the general public in April. President Joe Biden on March 11 directed states to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1 — and set a July 4 goalpost for things to return to normal.

The Washington State Department of Health created an online tool to help people find vaccines.