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Oct. 17, 2021

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What do you want to know about COVID-19 vaccination in Clark County?

We track down answers to readers’ questions about where and how to get a shot

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
3 Photos
Staff members of Touchmark at Fairway Village received the COVID-19 vaccine in January. Since Dec. 16, Clark County has administered more than 32,000 doses of the vaccine.
Staff members of Touchmark at Fairway Village received the COVID-19 vaccine in January. Since Dec. 16, Clark County has administered more than 32,000 doses of the vaccine. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

While Clark County, and the rest of the U.S., has been administering the COVID-19 vaccine for almost two months, vaccine is still not easily accessible.

In the past few weeks, The Columbian and local health care providers have been inundated with questions about vaccination. We’ve rounded up the most frequently asked questions about vaccination, and we have done our best to answer them.

Answers have been cobbled together from internet resources and email responses from Clark County Public Health, the Washington State Department of Health and local medical providers.

How many people have been vaccinated in Clark County?

Clark County has vaccinated at least 32,817 people, with at least 9,262 people fully vaccinated. These numbers lag by days, so actual vaccination numbers are higher. To view the most recent data, visit: doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/DataDashboard.

Am I eligible for vaccination?

Right now, the only people eligible in Washington for vaccination are those who work in health care, emergency medical personnel, anyone older than 65 and anyone older than 50 who lives in a multigenerational household. You can learn more about your eligibility and get notified once eligible by completing Washington’s Phase Finder form. This form only lets you know about eligibility. It does not get you on a waiting list for the vaccine. If you are eligible and need help accessing vaccine, you can fill out a request for a vaccine with Clark County Public Health. There have been more than 30,000 requests so far, so it will take several weeks for everyone to be paired to vaccination. Public Health has paired more than 7,500 people to vaccinations through this system.

Why aren’t there more appointments available?

The number of people who are currently eligible to be vaccinated far exceeds the amount of vaccine available. The limited supply and unpredictable nature of vaccine shipments make it challenging for facilities to schedule appointments far into the future. Facilities often don’t know how much vaccine they are going to receive until a few days before it arrives. Most facilities wait to schedule appointments until they know how much vaccine they will receive. As vaccine supply increases and the amount of vaccine distributed to local facilities and vaccination sites becomes more predictable, we’ll see vaccine appointments more readily available. Even if you are eligible right now, it might be several weeks to a couple of months before you are vaccinated.

When will we be able to schedule appointments further into the future?

Probably very soon. The state Department of Health has received its first notice of a three-week allocation plan, meaning the state will know how much vaccine it will get for the coming three weeks. The Department of Health is now developing a multiweek strategy that will help with consistency and predictability for medical providers and the public. The new allocation plan should be in place soon, according to the Department of Health, and you will be able to schedule vaccination appointments three weeks in advance.

If I have filled out the county’s request form for a vaccine, what will happen when it’s my turn to be vaccinated? Will the county call me or email me to help me set up a vaccination appointment?

Clark County Public Health is referring people who submit request forms to local health care facilities with COVID-19 vaccine, as vaccine supply allows. A local health care facility will contact you to schedule an appointment. Due to the large number of requests and the limited vaccine supply, it may take several weeks before you are contacted to schedule an appointment.

If I have already gotten vaccinated and I signed up to be on the county’s wait list, is there a way to withdraw my name from the wait list?

Vaccination Statistics

Washington has initiated vaccination (first dose) on 10.18% of its population and has fully vaccinated 2.84%  of its population.

Clark County has  initiated vaccination (first dose) on  6.29% of its population and has fully vaccinated 1.90% of its population.

Cowlitz County has initiated vaccination (first dose) on  6.04%  of its population and fully vaccinated  1.82% of its population.

No, there is not a way to remove your name from the referral list, so you will be contacted by a local facility to schedule an appointment. When that happens, please let the facility know that you have already been vaccinated and no longer need an appointment.

If people can’t get a vaccination at the mass vaccination site, and they have filled out the county’s wait list form, what other options are available for vaccination?

There are roughly a dozen local pharmacies where you can get vaccinated. The best resource to help you find locations is the state Department of Health website. While these locations are offering vaccinations, the supply is generally very low and it is difficult to schedule an appointment.

Is anywhere offering walk-up vaccinations?

Sea Mar is offering walk-up vaccination clinics at its Battle Ground, Delaware, East Vancouver, Salmon Creek and Fourth Plain locations. Sea Mar is generally made aware of its vaccine allocation on Friday, but it needs a few days to figure out how many of those doses will be reserved as second doses. That means Sea Mar generally gives public notice about vaccine availability on Monday or Tuesday evening on its website. The vaccine is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, and open to the community. Vaccine supply goes fast. Some people have been lining up as early as 4:30 a.m. to get vaccinated.

What is the best time for me to check with a local pharmacy to see if I can schedule an appointment?

The state and the counties get notice on vaccine allocation toward the end of each week. If you have a nearby local pharmacy, it would probably be best to check with them on Sunday evening or Monday. Appointments are likely to go fast.

Can I sign up with my medical provider to get a vaccine from them?

You can check with your primary care physician to see if their medical system is offering vaccine to patients. Right now, with supply so low, many medical providers are still vaccinating staff and may not have many appointments available for the general public. It’s important that you check directly with your primary care providers office, because some local hospitals have been overwhelmed by phone inquiries about vaccination.

When will more large-scale vaccination sites open up in Clark County? What is the county working on?

Clark County Public Health is working with private partners and an incident management team to create mobile vaccine clinics and large-scale vaccination sites. Recently, this work culminated in a mobile vaccine clinic that inoculated 930 people in long-term care facilities in Clark and Cowlitz counties. Clark County Public Health intends to open additional vaccination sites as vaccine supply increases. While the wait might be frustrating, it does mean the county should have infrastructure in place for more appointments, once the supply meets demand.

In what ways is Clark County prioritizing at-risk populations for COVID-19, such as those who are more impacted because of race/ethnicity or people who are eligible because of their age but also have underlying health conditions?

The Washington State Department of Health determines prioritization for the vaccine, but Clark County Public Health is working to make COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to high-risk populations within the state’s framework. The vaccination sites the county is developing (mobile and fixed location) are intended to be positioned near residents who have not been able to easily access vaccine and among communities and populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, such as communities of color and critical workers in congregate settings. The first example of these was the recent mobile clinic for senior care facilities. Clark County Public Health intends to open additional sites as vaccine supply allows.

How does the state decide which providers get vaccine?

Each week, the federal government allocates vaccine to Washington for the following week. The state Department of Health is responsible for deciding who will receive vaccine. Local health care facilities, pharmacies and vaccination sites request the amount of vaccine they would like to receive each week. The state looks at those requests and the amount of vaccine coming from the federal government and decides how to divvy up the vaccine. The state considers a variety of factors, including: proportional population of those eligible in the county, data from providers, providers’ current vaccine inventory and documented throughput (how much they can administer), equity, and access at all provider types (hospitals, pharmacies, mass vaccination sites and clinics).

On average, how much vaccine does Clark County request per week? How much vaccine is Clark County generally given per week?

Let’s look at the week of Feb. 1, last week. That week, the state requested 358,000 first vaccine doses from the federal government. The state makes that request after surveying every hospital, pharmacy, mass vaccination site and clinic certified to dole out vaccine. That means the state believes providers have the capacity to administer 358,000 vaccines per week. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Washington only received 107,000 doses from the federal government, due to limited vaccine supply. In that same week, starting Feb. 1, the county was allocated 5,450 doses, most of which went to the mass vaccine site. For the last several weeks, Clark County has ranged between 1,500 doses allocated to 3,700 doses. Allocation has gone up slightly recently, but Clark County has more than 89,000 people who are 65 and older and eligible for vaccination, and that’s just one of the many groups who are currently eligible. According to data released Wednesday, the state will receive 206,125 vaccine doses from the federal government. That’s about a 100,000-dose increase from the week of Feb. 1, but less than the 446,850 requested from the federal government.

If I received a first shot of the vaccine but have had trouble setting up the second dose, who should I contact?

You should reach out to the facility that provided the first dose. The state distributes second doses to facilities two to three weeks after the first dose. If you are unable to get a second dose at the facility where you received your first dose, you can try scheduling an appointment with another facility that has vaccine — just make sure they have the same brand of vaccine you received for your first dose. You can also submit a request through the Clark County Public Health website. If you received your first dose at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, you should receive a link on the appointment portal to schedule a second dose once you’ve reached the window for a second dose. If you did not get a link, you can bring the vaccination card you received when you got your first dose with Clark County Fairgrounds labeled on it and the card will be honored, even without an appointment.

I don’t have reliable Internet access. What’s the best way to get on the county’s vaccine wait list to get an appointment at the mass vaccine site?

Clark County Public Health has created a call center to help you fill out the webform requesting vaccination. You can call 888-225-4625 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for assistance with the form, checking your eligibility or to ask general vaccine access questions. You can also ask a friend or relative with reliable internet access to help you navigate wait lists and appointment portals on the internet. The state Department of Health also offers a phone number for help (1-800-525-0127, then press #, or 888-856-5816). Those numbers, however, often have extremely long wait times.

I’m having trouble with the fairgrounds appointment portal. What should I do?

Unfortunately, there is not a great answer for this at the moment. The Columbian was in contact with a representative of the appointment portal developer last week. They did not offer much helpful information and stopped communicating late last week. One Columbian reader recommended choosing a vaccination date later in the week, because those times are less popular and more likely to still be available when you complete the sign-up process. If you choose an appointment that is taken by the end of the sign-up process, the portal will kick you off or make you restart the process.

When might more vaccine become available?

If the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a single-dose vaccine, is approved toward the end of the month, that should increase capacity substantially by the spring or summer, especially since people won’t need a second dose. There are hundreds of millions of doses from the already approved vaccines that should also arrive in the U.S. by the summer.

Clark County has received more than 50,000 doses of the vaccine, but has only administered around 32,000 doses. Why are there still thousands of doses available for vaccination?

With about 18,000 unused doses available in Clark County, one might think it should be easier to get vaccinated than it currently is. While the county has not administered every dose it has, that does not mean those doses are unaccounted for. For starters, vaccination data lags behind the actual administration of vaccines by at least a couple of days, so there is less available vaccine than there appears to be. Also, many of the doses are reserved as a booster shot, or the second and final dose in the series for those who have received their first dose. Other doses, while showing up as unused, might already be scheduled for administration to a person in the coming days.

Now that the vaccine is out, and beginning to protect some of our most vulnerable populations, do I still need to be as cautious as I’ve been for most of the pandemic?

Absolutely. As the pandemic has gone on, COVID-19 has proven to be more of a mutator than originally thought. In recent months, more virulent variations of COVID-19 have emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Both variants have now been spotted in the U.S. The available vaccines have proven to still be effective against the mutations, but less effective, particularly in regard to the South African variation. While COVID-19 case counts are declining nationally right now, infections are still higher than they were for most of 2020, and the more infections there are, the more likely it is that the virus will continue to mutate and possibly make the vaccines less effective.

Who will be eligible for vaccination next?

You can learn more about Washington’s vaccination plan. Washington is expected to move into its next tier of vaccination — Phase 1B Tier 2 — by the spring. That tier will be for high-risk critical workers who are 50 years or older and work in certain congregate settings (agriculture, food processing, grocery stores, educators, child care, prisons and jails, firefighters, public transit and law enforcement). The following two tiers will likely be reached in the spring and summer also. Tier 3 is for people 16 and older with multiple co-morbidities or underlying conditions. Tier 4 is for critical workers under 50 — which is the same group as tier 2, but just younger. Any phases after that are expected to be reached in the summer and fall, but given how slow the rollout has been, it’s possible that all phases could be reached later than expected and that many won’t receive a vaccine until the late fall.

Columbian staff writer
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