The governor said the site has over-performed so far, vaccinating around 700 people per day since it opened on Tuesday
RIDGEFIELD — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was in Ridgefield on Thursday morning to tour the Clark County Fairgrounds COVID-19 mass vaccination site.
“We just could not be more delighted about how functional this operation has been so quickly,” Inslee said, “to bring so many vaccinations at such a critical period of time.”
In its first week of operation, Inslee said the fairgrounds site had been able to vaccinate around 700 people per day. Statewide, the average number of daily vaccinations had hit nearly 40,000, up from just 13,000 per day a week ago.
“We are on the path to success and I couldn’t be more excited about it,” Inslee said. “There’s going to be a period of waiting. That’s just mathematically necessary, but I am confident that Washingtonians can get through this. I know something about Washingtonians. We are a strong resolute lot.”
As First Lady Trudi Inslee handed out cookies to the people working the site, Inslee observed Andy Rose, a COVID-19 incident commander with the Washington Department of Health get his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Toughest bicep in the state here,” the governor joked, challenging Safeway pharmacist Hans Hoge to see “if that needle is sharp enough.”
Rose’s vaccine dose went without incident, and he was then moved along to park outside where everyone getting a shot is observed for 15-20 minutes to be sure there are no adverse reactions.
“They can do this almost one every four minutes,” Inslee said, “which, to me, is astoundingly quick.”
To accomplish that takes the combined efforts of the Department of Health, the Washington National Guard, as well as pharmacists from local Safeway and Albertsons stores. Guard medics are also on hand to assist with delivering vaccine doses.
Despite this success, and the rapid expansion of vaccine availability, Inslee acknowledged that the state faces a long road to getting everyone who wants the vaccine through the process.
“The president has announced an order for additional hundreds of millions of doses, and we’ve obtained a 16 percent increase in our doses, essentially guaranteed for the next three weeks,” Inslee said. “And of course, having doses is ultimately the salvation of this. We want to get as many doses as fast as we possibly can.”
The state has faced some pushback over the scheduling system for getting a vaccine. In many cases, those who qualify are signing up through multiple avenues, from local providers, to the county, and also the state, in an attempt to get in line as quickly as possible.
Rebecca Baron, a vaccination pod manager with the state Department of Health, said scheduling for the site should improve in the near future.
“It’s dependent upon how much our [vaccine] allocation is,” she said. “Once we have the allocation, we can begin to set the appointments. And we’ll be working with our Public Information Office to ensure that the link is sent out at the right time, so everyone is aware of it.”
The state is hopeful that, moving forward, they’ll have more of a three-week projection for allotments, which would allow them to schedule further in advance.
The state is also trying to identify ways for appointments to be scheduled over the phone.
“There have been a number of people who’ve come to the pod who have been unable to make an appointment because they lack Internet access,” said Baron.
Shah said the Department of Health and many providers are currently only being notified about how much vaccine the state will be receiving on a weekly basis.
“We’ve now been told by the federal government that they’re working towards a three way runway, if you will, that gives us better projections on what’s coming,” said Shah. “It’s not going to be immediate, because we have to first get all the information and the assurance that it’s happening.”
As for word that Oregonians may have been seeking vaccinations in Washington state, prompting a warning from the Department of Health that people may be asked to provide proof of residence, Inslee said he doesn’t expect it’s going to be a huge issue going forward.
“They can root for the Ducks, and they can get their vaccinations in Oregon. We will root for the Cougars and the Huskies, and we will get ours in Washington,” the governor said. “I don’t think this is going to be a big problem.”
A warning about keeping vigilant
Even as new data shows the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations leveling off, or even declining across much of the state, Inslee said now is not the time for people to let down their guard.
“We’re not helpless in this deal,” he said. “We can wear masks, we can socially distance, we can avoid getting infected at a Super Bowl party.”
Recent spikes in case numbers, according to health experts, likely traced back to gatherings over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. While things weren’t as bad as feared, Inslee said now is not the time to give in to the temptation to gather.
“We are not going to allow the virus to win the Super Bowl,” he said. “We’re gonna win the Super Bowl by being careful.”
Experts are also warning people who have been vaccinated to remain cautious. Analysis is still being done to determine if someone who has been fully vaccinated could still become infected and spread the virus.
“We need to continue to wear masks, we need to continue to socially distance even after we’re vaccinated,” the governor said. “Because we don’t have confidence yet that you’re not a transmitter, even after you’ve been vaccinated.”