Ever since the COVID-19 vaccine was unveiled in Washington in mid-December, Clark County’s vaccine administration has lagged behind the rest of the state, despite the fact that Clark County is the fifth-largest county in the state and the hub of Southwest Washington.
The lower administration rate, per capita, has confused and frustrated residents, according to dozens of emails and calls from residents to The Columbian in recent weeks. Until Tuesday, the reason for the low rate was somewhat murky, but data compilation from Clark County Public Health shows that low vaccine allocation from the state to Clark County is driving the vaccine administration issue Clark County has encountered.
According to a Public Health data analysis of the five Washington counties with the highest, lowest and median population sizes, Clark County ranks 14th out of 15 counties in the allocation of first doses per 1,000 residents and first-dose allocation as a percentage of the total county population.
According to the data, which was shared by Public Health with The Columbian Tuesday night, the only county in the 15-county comparison that received fewer doses per 1,000 people than Clark County is Ferry County, which has about 481,000 fewer people than Clark County.
“This allocation data comparison reinforces what we have suspected: Clark County is receiving less vaccine per capita than other counties,” Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said in a statement. “This disparity is impacting our ability to get Clark County residents vaccinated and is hindering our efforts to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine in our community.”
According to the data, the state has allocated 45,950 first doses of vaccine to Clark County over the last 11 weeks. That means Clark County has received 94.1 doses per 1,000 people, or doses for 9.4 percent of Clark County’s population.
The next largest county, Spokane County, has received 30,325 more first doses than Clark County, even though Spokane County has only 35,000 more residents. Spokane County has received 145.9 doses per 1,000 people, or doses for 14.6 percent of their population.
The largest counties – King, Snohomish and Pierce counties – all received far more vaccine doses per 1,000 than Clark County (132.4, 121.1 and 111.9 doses per 1,000 people, respectively).
Clark County Public Health has been working with a federal incident management team and local health care providers to set up more vaccine clinics, but supply has been a limiting factor.
The goal is to open mobile clinics and large-scale vaccination sites to inoculate people where they work, or close to where they live for those who don’t have easy access to transportation and vaccination.
Because Clark County’s vaccine allocation has been so low, and so much of the allocation has gone to the county’s mass vaccination site, it has created somewhat of a lottery system to get a shot.
With little vaccine available outside of the mass vaccination site, people need to have internet access, be computer savvy and have transportation to reach the site at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
There are few appointments available at local medical providers and pharmacies.
That means the insufficient vaccine supply is right now making the county’s rollout less equitable, which is something Washington, and many states, pledged to prioritize.
In the meantime, the county is continuing to set up vaccination infrastructure, while it waits for more doses.
“We’re working with community partners to identify key populations who are being underserved or disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, are identifying locations throughout the county where we could host accessible community vaccination sites, and are lining up the necessary volunteers and staffing to operate those sites,” reads a statement from Public Health. “Our biggest barrier has been vaccine supply.”
This story will be updated with comment from the state Department of Health