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May 10, 2021

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Melnick: Make anyone 16 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Clark County Public Health chief, Medvigy say universal eligibility beneficial

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

On Wednesday evening, Washington formalized a directive from President Joe Biden to make all adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, but Clark County’s top health official thinks the state should discuss accelerating that timeline.

At Wednesday morning’s Clark County Board of Health meeting, hours before the state’s May 1 announcement, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said he hopes to speak soon with other county health officers, and state officials, about making anyone 16 and older eligible for vaccination ahead of May 1.

During a presentation that showed the progress Clark County was making in vaccination, Councilor Gary Medvigy said he thinks Clark County might soon hit a point where supply outpaces demand, and the county needs to increase eligibility.

“At some point, we really should shift over to first-come first-served. Let’s get the vaccine out,” Medvigy said.

Melnick cited multiple reasons why universal eligibility could soon be beneficial.

For starters, it would clear up confusion over eligibility, Melnick said. It would also help Clark County Public Health be more efficient with vaccine administration.

For example, if Clark County Public Health wanted to do a mobile vaccine clinic for food-processing workers and universal eligibility were in place, that mobile clinic could vaccinate not only the workers but also their family members, which could help get vaccine to people of color.

Another reason is that some eligible people are turning down the vaccine, so it might make sense to increase eligibility in the near future.

“Why not open it up to more people?” Melnick asked.

Neither Melnick nor Medvigy pushed for a certain time when universal eligibility should commence. But they support the idea of the state developing a plan for it ahead of May 1.

According to the New York Times, at least 30 states are planning to make all adults eligible by the end of March or in April, ahead of Biden’s timeline.

Alaska, Arizona, Utah, West Virginia and Mississippi have already implemented universal eligibility.

Utah, Arizona and Mississippi lag behind Washington’s vaccination pace – 26 percent of the population with one vaccine dose and 15 percent fully vaccinated.

Clark County has given one dose of vaccine to 20.25 percent of residents and fully inoculated close to 10 percent of residents.

Louisiana, Idaho, Texas, Indiana and Georgia have plans for universal eligibility before May 1, and those states also lag behind Washington in percentage of population vaccinated.

In recent weeks, Clark County has seen a significant increase in its vaccine allotment and administration. One month ago, Clark County Public Health gave The Columbian data that showed Washington was shorting the county’s vaccine allocation.

Over the first 11 weeks of the vaccination rollout, Clark County received roughly 4,100 first vaccine doses per week. In the four weeks since, Clark County has seen vaccine allocation of first doses more than quadruple.

Last week, Clark County received 17,710 first doses. This week, the county received only 6,950 first doses, but Clark County also received about 10,000 first doses from a federal program. Those doses go to local pharmacies and the county’s Tower Mall vaccination site in central Vancouver.

The county also received 12,100 second doses from the state this week – doses that are now needed to fully inoculate the thousands of people who received first doses in the last few weeks.

Perhaps the most telling sign that vaccine administration has sped up is the county’s vaccination request portal. Less than a month ago, more than 30,000 people were on a county vaccine request list, waiting to be paired with a medical provider for an injection.

The county has worked through that backlog and now receives about 200 requests for vaccination per day, generally pairing people to a shot within 24 hours.

“We went through that waiting list pretty rapidly, and now there basically is no waiting list,” Melnick said. “We are able to accommodate people pretty quickly.”

Wyatt Stayner: 360-735-4546; wyatt.stayner@columbian.com

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