“We can do hard things.”
That is one of Gov. Jay Inslee’s favorite quotes, an oft-cited motivational mantra that has Vancouver origins. In 2013, Crestline Elementary was destroyed in an arson fire. The school was quickly rebuilt, and a student told the governor that the lesson from the ordeal was, “We can do hard things.”
Now, Inslee must tap into that inspiration to boost the state’s coronavirus vaccination program. “This is a massive effort,” he said Monday. “We are mobilizing thousands of workers and resources to save people from this virus.”
We know this virus is deadly, with Washington recording nearly 4,000 deaths from 300,000 COVID-19 cases. Yet vaccine mobilization has been slow in coming. Since vaccines were made available in December, Washington ranks in the bottom third among states in terms of doses administered — 3,186 per 100,000 residents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington has received nearly 700,000 doses of vaccines and has administered about 40 percent of those. Each recipient must receive an initial shot followed by a booster shot.
“We want to get shots in arms, and we want to do this quickly,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure we are vaccinating as many Washingtonians as possible.”
To reach that point, state officials are opening four expansive vaccination sites, including one at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. The goal is to eventually administer 45,000 vaccines a day across the state.
That sounds like a hard thing to do, and officials have launched a series of public-private partnerships to achieve it. Kaiser Permanente will be involved with planning and delivery; Starbucks will assist with operations and logistics; Microsoft will contribute technology expertise and support; and Costco will help with vaccine delivery by pharmacies.
It is notable that three of those companies are based in Washington, demonstrating the benefits of innovative corporations.
The ambition of the plan also is notable. Washington currently is receiving about 100,000 vaccine doses a week from the federal government — not nearly enough for the goal of 45,000 a day. But Inslee stressed that having infrastructure in place will be essential for when the number of available vaccines increases.
The new directive will move the state to Phase 1B of its inoculation program and will alter that phase to include people 65 and older. Previously, vaccines have been available for health care workers, first responders and those in the highest-risk categories.
Clark County is completing vaccinations under Phase 1A and is accepting applications for Phase 1B. “We ask for your patience,” county health officer Dr. Alan Melnick said.
The imperfect rollout of vaccines has been predictable. Supply lines are still being established, and delivery systems are being built from scratch. The United States has rarely been tasked with such a widespread mobilization — a desire to vaccinate hundreds of millions of people in a short time.
President Joe Biden recently said he would like to see 100 million vaccinations nationwide during his first 100 days in office. Inslee’s plan puts Washington ahead of that pace, based on population. Developing a detailed infrastructure for the delivery of vaccines is the first step in bringing it to fruition.
It is an ambitious goal, but a necessary one. As Inslee likes to say, if we work together, “we can do hard things.”