By Ann McCreary
COVID-19 vaccine providers in Okanogan County are working to get as many shots in arms as possible, providing required second doses and trying to whittle away at waiting lists of people who have registered for their first vaccination.
North Valley Hospital in Tonasket received a large shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week, 975 doses for first shots and 975 doses for second shots. The hospital was able to begin scheduling first shots for people who registered on or before Jan. 22, after having to put new appointments on hold last week due to lack of vaccine.
With the new supply of vaccine, North Valley Hospital will push to give as many shots as possible this week by extending hours and adding staff, said CEO John McReynolds.
“This week will be a great test of what is possible with enough vaccinations. We are trying to get close to 1500 between Feb. 8 and Feb. 13. This would represent our top capacity and would be about double what we’ve done in any week before,” McReynolds said. “It’s a stretch goal and it’s going to be hard.”
The hospital has been delivering about 100 shots a day at its medical clinic in Tonasket, and plans to give 200 shots each day this week, and 500 on Saturday. On Monday (Feb. 8) the clinic provided vaccinations to 199 people, just one person shy of its goal.
Whittling down the list
At the beginning of the week, the hospital had 1,400 people scheduled for a shot, and 800 on its waiting list — down from about 1,000 on the list at the beginning of last week. The hospital is also supplying 520 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Mid Valley Hospital, which will host a large drive-in event Saturday, Feb. 13, at Okanogan County Fairgrounds to provide second shots to people who received their first inoculation at a drive-in event three weeks ago at the fairgrounds.
Vaccine providers must comply with recent rules issued by the Washington Department of Health (DOH) that prohibit giving vaccine earmarked for second doses to people getting their first shot. The rules are intended to ensure that there is enough vaccine available for the second shots, which are recommended at three weeks for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and four weeks for Moderna.
North Valley had a supply of 1,255 doses designated for the second round of vaccinations at the beginning of the week — more than enough with the new delivery of vaccine to cover its scheduled second dose appointments and the Feb. 13 fairgrounds event. As a result, “we are overstocked on second doses by about 700,” McReynolds said this week. “At the direction of the Department of Health, those 700 doses can’t be used for first doses, so we are looking for organizations that need Pfizer doses to coordinate a transfer.”
Three Rivers Hospital expected to receive 200 doses of Moderna vaccine this week, designated for second doses. Last week the hospital received no vaccine shipment and was unable to make any appointments for first doses. It had to supplement its supply of second dose vaccine with about 20 doses obtained from another vaccine provider to give scheduled second shots. The hospital is still “in a holding pattern on scheduling first doses” until it receives a shipment of vaccine designated for first shots, said Jennifer Best, hospital spokesperson.
About 2,000 people have registered for vaccines at Three Rivers Hospital, and the hospital had provided 904 first doses and 177 second doses at the end of last week, Best said.
Mid Valley Hospital in Omak began receiving Moderna vaccine with a shipment of 100 doses last week that it administered at a vaccine event in the hospital medical clinic. The hospital did not receive any vaccine this week, said Richard Morales, director of public relations.
Family Health Centers received 100 second doses this week, said Melodie White, chief operations officer for Family Health Centers. “We request our full capacity of 2,800 doses each week. So far our highest delivery has been 400 doses in a week.” Family Health Centers had a waiting list of 2,350 people and has delivered 1,250 vaccinations as of early this week.
Vaccine providers submit requests to the state Immunization Information System and are informed on Fridays how much vaccine they will receive for the following week. The amount requested continues to far outpace the amount of vaccine delivered to Washington State by the federal government, said Michele Roberts, assistant secretary of health.
During the first week of February, providers in Washington requested 358,000 doses, but the state only received 107,000 doses, Roberts said in a briefing last week.
Short of state goal
Two weeks ago, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a goal of delivering 45,000 vaccinations a day in Washington. The state is currently delivering about 28,000 vaccinations per day on average, about twice the amount at the end of January, DOH officials said.
Okanogan County had provided 6,748 doses as of Feb. 6, according to DOH data. That’s a little more than 13% of the county’s population. Only seven other counties had a higher percentage of doses delivered.
Statewide, 942,166 doses have been administered, and 1,056,575 doses have been shipped to Washington. About 25,000 doses have been administered at mass vaccination sites that opened three weeks ago in Wenatchee, Spokane, Ridgefield and Kennewick, DOH reported.
Under the state’s eligibility guidelines, vaccinations are currently open to Phase 1 Tier 1A and 1B,which includes health care workers at risk of COVID-19 infection, first responders, people who live or work in long-term care facilities, anyone 65 and older, and people 50 and older who live in a multigenerational household.
There have been many reports in the Seattle area and across the country of people “line jumping” to get vaccinated by using influence or false information, and it is an issue that concerns providers in Okanogan County.
Three Rivers Hospital has started asking for proof that people are health care workers, and screens registration forms to try to make sure that people meet eligibility criteria, Best said. The hospital has also decided to “prioritize our own county and hospital district residents,” she said.
“A number of Okanogan County residents don’t have the same access to resources that others do, such as transportation and technology,” Best said. “Rural areas are often underserved in health care as it is, and we don’t want to contribute to that by making it harder for our county residents to access the vaccine.”
Some people have contacted the hospital “in the hopes we can make an exception for them, or let them take a dose that might otherwise be wasted,” Best said. “When that happens we cite the DOH rules and invite them to come back and register when they’re eligible. There are so many eligible people nearby who are waiting for the vaccine that we don’t have trouble finding someone to take a dose that would otherwise be wasted.”
“Our organizations that are offering the vaccine are trying hard to only vaccinate eligible people,” said James Wallace, chief health officer for Okanogan Public Health and Family Health Centers.
“It’s important to remember that with such short supply right now, each dose that goes to someone who is not yet eligible is a dose that could have gone to someone who is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or suffering more severe complications of COVID-19,” Wallace said.
McReynolds said county vaccine providers are working to make access to vaccinations more equitable, because online registration — the method most commonly used to sign up for a vaccination — “benefits the more tech-savvy and connected residents at the expense of deserving patients that don’t have the means or ability to register online.”
Providers have developed paper registration and Spanish language forms to make registration more accessible. And several providers are participating in a call center where people can get information and help registering. The number is 1-866-458-0169.
“The county is getting closer to launching a single registration and appointment system, which should hopefully reduce confusion and increase equitable access to all qualifying patients,” McReynolds said.