Representative speaks to past challenges in increasing vaccine allocation for Southwest Washington
VANCOUVER — Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler visited Vancouver’s Tower Mall site Monday, the site that has been administering thousands of COVID-19 tests and vaccines for many weeks.
The representative for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District was joined on her tour by the mayor of Vancouver, Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz and Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick.
During the group’s time onsite, they spoke with pharmacists and nurses, who are supplied with vaccines from the federal government. The site is co-managed by the city of Vancouver, Clark County Public Health and Safeway.
“It feels like we have a better hand in really fighting the disease,” Herrera Beutler said. “I rely on public health to share what’s working, this is what’s not, go get us some more or go help for us in this way. That’s what I wanted to see and ask, and honestly, it’s a pretty well-oiled machine.”
Herrera Beutler received a tour on one of the sites many car bays made from heavy duty tent covers. Each person passing through pulls in and receives their first or second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They are then asked to wait nearby for 20 minutes to ensure no adverse reactions.
The representative was met by pharmacists who oversee operations at the location, and given a run down of how vaccine record cards work and how many shots are given each day, which is currently about 1,000.
During a press conference following the tour, the congresswoman spoke at length about the process and challenges in increasing vaccine allocation for southwest Washington.
“Where we are today versus, you know, the first 11 weeks, it was bad. We were getting shortchanged,” she said. “We never got a good answer as to why. We were given a lot of reasons, but pulling together as a group and as a county, advocating to the state and saying, ‘Wait a minute, there’s money here. This is a population center.’ I have other counties that were in similar boats, and we’re starting to see it go up in every single place, and I think it’s because we had to advocate.”
Herrera Beutler said she did not believe that there was any malicious intent or conspiracy in the initially low allocations of doses to the region, but instead stressed a belief in better advocacy from herself and those present in reaching out to the state and federal government.
She also said she believes the age-old issue of her district and Clark County being located between Seattle and Portland often plays a role in being overlooked. Dr. Melnick echoed several of the congresswoman’s thoughts, affirming that Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Lewis, Wahkiakum, and Pacific counties received lower amounts of vaccine.
“Sometimes we are an afterthought,” Melnick said. “Because you’ve got Spokane on the east side, you’ve got the Puget Sound on the west side, and often the southwest is something we need to advocate for resources here. So I appreciate everything you’ve done for that.”
The representative also alluded back to a conversation with the Washington State Public Health director, in which she questioned the allocation equity with regards to the southwest corner of the state. Melnick and Herrera Beulter both agreed this moment also aided in the effort to up distribution to where it is today.
Melnick praised not only the elected officials present, but also healthcare providers across the region. These providers were consistent and honest in their requests for more doses and displaying that they had the capacity for them, he said.
“So this is a federal allocation here. The other source of vaccine is through the state,” Melnick said. “We have a number of sites where we’re providing that as well the fairgrounds is a good example of where the state is providing that. We’re also doing some mobile pods, we really want to reach the essential worker population … that work in the food processing plants. We’re using state allocated vaccine for those services as well.”
Melnick also stressed streamlining the process to make it as easy as possible for those eligible to receive a vaccine. Part of this, he said, is to bring vaccines to people rather than having them commute to a mass vaccination site.
The Vancouver Fire Department and Clark County Public Health have both begun doing this with the elderly, supportive living homes and other residents that cannot travel for any reason. Mayor McEnerny-Ogle also stressed that if any residents are finding it difficult to schedule an appointment, they should call (888) 225-4625.
The congresswoman ended her time at the site by reiterating that she saw the entire vaccination effort in her district as significant progress towards a post-COVID era.
“It’s so funny to see people lined up with smiles to get a shot,” she said. “But you know what it is, nobody’s excited about getting a shot. We’re excited about getting back to normal. And that’s the point. I don’t know about you, but I’m so over this pandemic and anything we can do to move us forward, get our businesses moving, get our kids back in school, this is a huge part of that goal.”