Clark County is aware of problems with the early COVID-19 vaccine rollout and is looking to fill as many gaps in vaccination as it can in the coming weeks.
While Clark County was selected as one of four Washington counties to host a state-run mass vaccination site, Clark County inoculations still lag, according to discussion from Wednesday’s Clark County Board of Health meeting.
Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said many initial vaccination issues have smoothed over. He also said providers are now more “facile” at administering vaccine, but he acknowledged the process needs more fine-tuning.
“We have to do a much better job of getting the vaccine out there,” Melnick said.
A major part of the problem is out of the county’s control.
Vaccine allocation comes from the federal government, and so far the federal government has given short notice to states about how much vaccine they will receive each week, which means counties don’t know how much supply they’ll get from states until late in the week.
With short turnaround times, it is more difficult for local medical providers to schedule appointments for patients.
Extra complications arose late last week when the state opened appointments for Clark County’s mass vaccination site, the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, but did not heavily publicize the open appointments, which filled up quickly.
Residents then became confused and worried that all appointments for the indefinite future had been booked. The appointments, instead, will be opened again later this week when states and counties know more about vaccine allocation.
Another complicating issue is that vaccine supply is still low across the nation. President Joe Biden reached a deal to purchase 200 million more vaccine doses on Tuesday and said states would see a 16 percent bump in vaccine allocation over the next few weeks. For the time being, though, there is much more demand for vaccines than there is supply.
Clark County received 3,725 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week, with roughly 3,000 of those doses at the fairgrounds, which leaves medical providers such as the county’s local hospitals little supply to work with.
Melnick said Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center has received no vaccine in the last two weeks.
“They’re concerned,” Melnick said.
Through the last week, Clark County has received just shy of 38,000 vaccine doses since administration began on Dec. 16. About 23,300 of those doses were for first shots and 14,750 were for booster doses — the second and final dose.
As of Saturday, 18,615 doses have been administered in Clark County, with 16,932 first injections and 3,186 booster doses.
Since Clark County is only about six weeks into vaccinations, and it takes three to four weeks before someone can get a booster dose, the county has started administering more booster doses recently.
But Melnick said the short vaccine supply is causing local providers to reserve doses that ordinarily would be first shots so doses can be administered as booster shots, which confer nearly 95 percent effectiveness in preventing coronavirus symptoms.
“It’s sort of a vaccine availability issue more than anything,” said Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien.
The county has been able to refer about 7,000 people to health care providers for vaccinations through its online form so far, according to Melnick, but there’s still about 23,000 pending requests for vaccinations.
According to Public Health, there are now about 50,000 to 75,000 Clark County residents eligible for vaccination in the current phase, but the county’s vaccine supply is well short of that.
Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy expressed concerns over the rollout and wants to see the county get more shots into arms.
“This is an important, if not the most important, thing we are doing right now,” Medvigy said.
Melnick said Public Health brought on the Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 3 last week to help solve these issues. Public Health and Clark County are looking at creating county-run large-scale vaccination sites, and mobile vaccination clinics that could travel to congregate settings or workplaces such as schools or food processing plants to vaccinate workers.
Clark County has roughly 260 adult family homes, the highest number of homes per capita in the state, and Melnick said mobile vaccine clinics could be a perfect way to efficiently vaccinate the vulnerable populations who generally live in adult family homes.
“The last thing I want to see are doses of the vaccine that are sitting in the freezer or on the shelf,” Melnick said.
Washington reiterates vaccination guidelines
The Washington State Department of Health tweeted Wednesday afternoon that Oregonians should not cross into Washington to get vaccinated, unless they work in Washington.
The Department of Health is relying on the honor system, however, and won’t be vetting vaccine recipients at Clark County’s mass vaccination site. The federal government’s vaccine allocation is determined by a state’s population, which means it’s important for people to get vaccinated where they live.
The one exception in Washington is for those who live in Oregon, but work in Washington, according to the Department of Health. In that case, an Oregonian may be vaccinated in Washington.
“Please stop coming if you do not live or work in Washington,” the Department of Health tweeted. “We do not have enough vaccine for you. Thank you neighbors for your understanding.”