Clark County Public Health deluged with questions over vaccine eligibility

The county says demand for Phase 1a COVID-19 vaccinations remains higher than supply

VANCOUVER — Facing a deluge of questions over when the COVID-19 vaccines will be more widely available, Clark County Public Health on Friday said they are working closely with health care facilities to push forward with Phase 1a of the state’s vaccine rollout plan, and into Phase 1b as soon as possible.

In a news release, the department said they had received more than 3,000 requests for vaccinations, and are still getting several hundred inquiries each day from people wondering if they qualify under Phase 1a.

Vaccines for COVID-19 continue to be in relatively short supply around the country. File photo
Vaccines for COVID-19 continue to be in relatively short supply around the country. File photo

Phase 1a includes those working in health care settings, high-risk first responders, and people living or working in long-term care facilities. To date, local facilities have vaccinated thousands of employees, and pharmacies are working to finish vaccinations of staff and residents at long-term care facilities through a partnership with the federal government.

Currently, the county noted, the demand for vaccines in Phase 1a exceeds the supply.

“Public Health and our local health care partners are working to get eligible people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director. “We, like many in our community, are eager to see the number of people protected against COVID-19 increase.”

The county’s Public Health website contains information on who qualifies under Phase 1a. If you’re in that category, you can fill out a request form in order to be connected with a local health care facility and scheduled to receive the vaccine.

Currently, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center is the leading health care provider for vaccinations, due to their cold storage capabilities required for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine variant. 

The hospital had not responded to a request for details regarding how many vaccines had been delivered versus administered in time for this report.

Washington’s state Department of Health said Wednesday that 624,975 doses of both vaccines had been distributed as of Jan. 12, with another 123,275 anticipated by the end of this week. As of Jan. 11, a total of 201,660 doses had been administered, although that data is likely between two and three days behind.

DOH had estimated approximately 500,000 people initially qualified under Phase 1a, although the state later allowed more first-responders and long-term care facility staff and residents. There has been no updated estimate of how many people in the state currently qualify under Phase 1a.

A nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest draws a dose of Pfizer vaccine from a vial. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth SW
A nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest draws a dose of Pfizer vaccine from a vial. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth SW

Phase 1b will be divided into four tiers, with all people in the state over the age of 70, and people over 50 living in multigenerational households next in line to receive vaccinations, hopefully before the end of January.

The state had been cautiously optimistic about the potential to accelerate that schedule, based on promises from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar earlier this week to release a strategic reserve of vaccines in order to speed up distribution.

On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said state and federal officials had been told late Thursday that no such stockpile actually existed, and there would be no influx of vaccine doses. The news prompted the state to do an about-face on plans to expand vaccine eligibility to all residents over 65-years-old starting Jan. 23.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the news a “deception” for which the “Trump admin. must answer immediately.”

The reversal by the federal government, according to The Washington Post, represented a miscommunication between HHS and Operation Warp Speed (OWS), which is overseeing distribution of the vaccines.

Before the end of the year, OWS had been holding back vaccine supply in order to ensure second doses would be available. That strategy shifted at the end of December, and all remaining supply was shipped out. That change was apparently not communicated to other federal agencies.

Azar believed that an increase in vaccine production by Pfizer and Moderna meant the country could release the stockpile and feel confident the supply would be consistent to meet second doses. 

President-elect Joseph R. Biden said Friday that his $1.9 trillion emergency funding plan would include $20 billion to assist with implementing a national vaccination strategy, including mass vaccination clinics in every state. He has also pledged to ship 100 million vaccine doses within his first 100 days in office.

Back here in Clark County, Public Health said it continues to work with partners in the region to create community vaccination sites to speed up distribution of the doses, with further details expected “in the coming weeks.”

Washington’s Department of Health is also expected to launch a data dashboard soon with information on where vaccine shipments are going, how many have been distributed, and how many have been administered.

For additional information about the state COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan, including who is eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1b, visit the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine webpage.