Fifty volunteers visited nearly 130 long-term care homes over a two day period
CLARK COUNTY — More than 930 people living in long-term care facilities around Clark and Cowlitz Counties were able to receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to efforts from local health departments, volunteers, and Clark-Cowlitz Fire Department.
Around 50 volunteers spent two days late last week packing up vaccines in cold storage bags, then visiting nearly 130 long-term care homes.
While many larger skilled nursing facilities have been receiving doses of vaccine directly from the Centers for Disease Control, smaller long-term care homes weren’t eligible. The county has made it a priority to try and reach those places as soon as possible.
The accomplishment was the first sign that efforts by the health departments of Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties is paying off. Their request for assistance brought a Type 1 Incident Management team from FEMA to the region several weeks ago.
Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 3 has spent their time here working with fire departments, Medical Corps volunteers, pharmacies, and other groups to lay the groundwork for an expansion of vaccination efforts.
One of the key components of that plan was an effort to mobilize vaccinations, to reach people who are unable to easily get to a medical provider or mass vaccination site.
“Our team, with the support of our incredible volunteers, was able to successfully vaccinate more than 930 people in their homes or workplaces in two days,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, health officer for Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties. “This demonstrates that through collaboration between the three counties, the incident management team and our community partners, we can make COVID-19 vaccine more accessible for our high-risk populations.”
The accomplishment is one small step in a long journey to make COVID-19 vaccinations more available to people in Clark County.
As of last Friday, the Washington Department of Health estimated that just over 9 percent of people eligible in Clark County had received a single dose of vaccine, while 2.17 percent had gotten both doses.
Clark County Public Health estimates there are 89,000 people who are eligible in Phase 1B1, which includes people over age 65 or age 50 in a multigenerational household.
Last week, the state sent 5,450 first doses of vaccine to providers, pharmacies, and the fairgrounds site in Clark County. That’s up from between 1,500 and 3,700 in previous weeks, but still insufficient to make sure anyone who wants a vaccination can get one.
Many hospitals are also receiving fewer doses as allocations are moved to mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, and smaller providers.
Since the state now requires that providers use doses received within seven days, many providers used up stock they were saving to ensure second doses were available.
“So this week, and next week, we think there’s going to be a lack of first dose appointments available in our state because everyone is prioritizing finishing their second doses,” said Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association on Monday. “I think in two weeks from now, we’ll be done with the second dose backfilling and also the Federal Supply is supposed to go up.”
Daily vaccine doses had reached nearly 30,000 at the end of January, as hospitals burned through their backstock following the expansion of eligibility. As of Friday, that daily number had cooled off a bit to 26,269.
As of this week, just over a million doses of vaccine had been shipped to Washington, and just under 834,000, or 72.2 percent, had been administered.
The state has set a goal of 45,000 daily vaccinations, but would likely need to see shipments from the Federal government nearly double from current levels in order to accomplish that.
Sauer said Monday that providers could be giving out tens of thousands more doses per day right now if the supply was available.
“Everyone wants more,” she said. “The community wants more, the pharmacies want more, hospitals want more, Long Term Care wants more. The mass vaccination clinics want more. So we are hopeful the federal supply will continue to grow.”
That effort could be helped by early March if the Food and Drug Administration grants Emergency Use Authorization to Johnson & Johnson for their vaccine candidate, a single-dose shot that has been shown to be up to 72 percent effective after 28 days, and also helpful in preventing serious cases and hospitalization.