State health officials set Saturday call to discuss vaccine shortage in Clark County


The announcement came hours after Southwest Washington legislators sent a letter to Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah

CLARK COUNTY — Washington’s Department of Health (DOH) says it is working to address a “gap” in vaccine distribution experienced by Clark County and several other areas of the state in recent weeks.

Secretary of Health, Dr. Umair Shah, along with Michele Roberts, acting secretary for Prevention and Community Health, have committed to holding a call on Saturday with Southwest Washington legislators, as well as Clark County Public Health and members of the Clark County Board of Health.

A nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver draws out a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth Southwest
A nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver draws out a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth Southwest

The announcement came several hours after Rep. Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver) and the rest of the legislators from Southwest Washington co-signed a letter to Shah, urging him to look into the situation.

“Regardless of the reasons behind the difference, we call on those who oversee vaccine allocations in the state to increase the number of vaccines being sent to Clark County immediately,” the lawmakers wrote in part. “Our residents deserve to be treated fairly in vaccination allocations and they continue to express frustration with the lack of doses available.”

The Board of Health also finalized a letter on Thursday to both Shah and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, recapping their concerns and urging a swift resolution.

Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said this week that their analysis showed 94.1 vaccine doses had been shipped here for every 1,000 residents, compared to nearly 146 per 1,000 people for Spokane County, with a population just 35,000 larger than Clark County.

In a statement on Wednesday, a DOH spokesperson blamed the disparity on “a gap,” largely caused by “second dose reallocations in recent weeks.”

Shah repeated that claim in an interview this week with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler from Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, adding that DOH had already become aware of the situation and had been “reaching out” to affected regions to begin addressing the issue.

Shah also claimed that the state had offered to ship more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Southwest Washington, but that “some of the providers said we don’t have the capability because of the storage requirements.”

Marissa Armstrong, a communications officer with Clark County Public Health, pushed back on Shah’s claim Friday.

“Clark County providers have the ability to receive, store and administer Pfizer vaccine,” Armstrong wrote in an email to Clark County Today. “Our largest health care providers, who have the greatest capacity to vaccinate people in Clark County, have been requesting Pfizer vaccine for several weeks.”

Armstrong added that many Clark County providers had orders that were either partially filled, or not filled at all, often without explanation. 

“Additionally, some of our local providers were previously ordering Moderna and those orders were not being filled without any explanation why,” Armstrong said.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, which has the largest ultra-cold storage capability in the region, said they have room for what would equate to 126,000 doses and “have never been at risk of running out of room based on the Pfizer allotments we have received.”

Data analysis done by Clark County Public Health reveals a gap in allocations for Clark County versus other similarly-sized counties in Washington. Image courtesy Clark County Public Health
Data analysis done by Clark County Public Health reveals a gap in allocations for Clark County versus other similarly-sized counties in Washington. Image courtesy Clark County Public Health

Even with the mixed messages, Vick said he appreciates the quick response from DOH in setting up Saturday’s call.

“Clark County residents have not been treated fairly when it comes to vaccine allocations,” added Vick. “I’m grateful to the other legislators who joined with me in this important effort. We will continue to work together to see that residents in our county receive their fair share of vaccine allocations from the state.”

The lawmakers are urging DOH to make Clark County, the state’s fifth most populous county, a higher priority when it comes to vaccine distribution, ensure that allocations of both first and second doses are equitable to the county population, ensure that supply is sufficient in the coming weeks for the county to catch up, and make sure local health jurisdictions are being offered both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines based on what they require.

In their letter, the Board of Public Health further notes that Clark County is ready and able to vaccinate thousands more people each day than the current supply allows.

“Clark County is ready to expand our vaccination efforts, once we receive the vaccine supply needed to serve our community,” the Board wrote. “We request a response as to why Clark County has received less vaccines and how the state is going to move forward from here to distribute COVID-19 vaccine in a more equitable fashion.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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