SEATTLE — Thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations from two federal health care providers have not been counted in official Washington state vaccination statistics, complicating the state’s pandemic response, officials said.
Vaccinations from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs remain in the federal computer system, meaning county health officials cannot consider the statistics when determining restrictions or reopening plans in the state, The Seattle Times reported. It also artificially lowers the vaccination rate, officials said.
“We would very much like to have vaccination data info from the VA and Department of Defense, like all other vaccine providers in Washington state are required to report, so we can fully understand vaccine coverage rates and potential disparities across our communities,” King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said.
Health officials in King County, which includes Seattle, have urged people this week to continue wearing facial coverings in public areas indoors until 70% or more of residents age 16 and older are fully vaccinated. Other counties are expected to implement similar guidelines.
Federal and state lawmakers, including the state Department of Health, have pushed the federal agencies to share more detailed patient data, but they only have shared aggregate vaccination numbers, which can include duplicates.
More than 600,000 active-duty military and veterans live in Washington, or about 8% of the population as of 2018, the most recent year for comprehensive federal statistics. Washington has the seventh-largest active-duty military population in the U.S., the Times reported.
The state Department of Health requested more detailed data from the Department of Defense earlier this month, but state officials said they have not yet heard back. The Department of Defense has attributed the lack of data sharing to national security concerns — a problem not unique to Washington state.
“Probably here it is more of an impact than places without as much military presence,” said Jennifer Coiteux, acting director of the state DOH Office of Immunization and Child Profile. “It is really challenging to know whose information we have and whose information we don’t have.”
Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, which represents public health agencies nationwide, said a major obstacle is the difficulty syncing the two federal agencies’ electronic medical records with immunization registries in all states and territories, most of which have customized systems.
More than 50% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 35% of the population is fully vaccinated.