Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, toured a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site at the former Tower Mall in Vancouver on Monday.
The site administers between 800 and 1,000 doses of the vaccination per day, which Herrera Beutler described as “joyful.”
“We have been working so hard, I think, to get to this place,” she said, addressing local leaders and media.
“This really feels like we’re finally taking some ground. And it was fun to see people happy to get a shot – I don’t know about you, but I don’t like shots; I’m sure most people don’t. So seeing people happy to get this is a step in the right direction.”
The congresswoman was joined on the tour by Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick and Public Health Investigations and Response Director Roxanne Wolfe.
Gathered under a tent in one of the five lanes for drive-up appointments, the group discussed the details of the process with a registered nurse and a pharmacist who administer vaccinations.
Brian Destine, a Safeway pharmacist, explained how the site handles administering doses and keeping records with such a high volume of patients.
“With the Pfizer vaccine, you actually need to draw up 1.8 milliliters of saline to put into the Pfizer vial. You’ll mix it, rotate it essentially 10 times, you’ll get the vial and then draw up the six doses,” Destine explained. “I’m sure you’ve seen our line here today. We’re fairly busy.”
The Tower Mall location opened Jan. 12 as a no-barrier COVID-19 testing site. Anyone – insured or uninsured, documented or undocumented – can receive a free, confidential virus test. As vaccine doses became available, the site split in half, with one portion devoted to testing and the other to vaccinating.
Tests do not require an appointment; vaccinations do require an appointment. Vaccine appointments for eligible people at the site can be made online at the Safeway/Albertsons website at mhealthcheckin.com/covidvaccine or by calling 888-225-4625.
Herrera Beutler described the operation as a “well-oiled machine.” After a rocky rollout, Melnick said, the number of people receiving shots in their arms has improved enormously.
“I feel a lot better now than I did in the first 11 weeks, in terms of people getting vaccinated,” Melnick said. “We’ve really gotten a lot more people vaccinated in the last four weeks.”
In February, Herrera Beutler pressured the Washington secretary of health for more transparency in how vaccines were being allocated after data indicated Southwest Washington counties were being shortchanged. Clark County’s per-capita allotment of first doses was among the lowest in the state, according to Public Health.
“It was bad. Everybody here has probably seen the numbers,” Herrera Beutler said.
Since then, the county’s vaccine allocation has improved significantly. As of March 24, the weekly number of doses sent to the region through state and federal channels had more than quadrupled, Public Health reports.
At Monday’s event, Herrera Beutler said she never heard a clear answer as to why Southwest Washington was initially neglected. She speculated that the region’s geography might have something to do with it: overshadowed by Seattle to the north, Portland to the south and Spokane to the east, her district is easy to overlook by national media and decision-makers, she said.
“This is a population center,” Herrera Beutler said. “My belief isn’t that someone was withholding from us for some weird reason, but the reality is there’s a lot of moving parts, and our job is to advocate for the folks who live here.”