Working on waiting lists for first doses
By Ann McCreary
More than 1,200 people received COVID-19 vaccinations last Saturday (Feb. 13) at three large events hosted by vaccine providers in Okanogan County.
Hospital and clinic staff, ambulance services and scores of volunteers turned out on a snowy day to provide vaccinations. At Liberty Bell High School, Family Health Centers gave first doses of Moderna vaccine to 338 people, in collaboration with Aero Methow Rescue Service.
Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak held a drive-in vaccination event at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds to provide second doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to more than 500 people who got their first shot three weeks ago at a similar event at the fairgrounds.
At North Valley Hospital in Tonasket, hospital staff capped off a marathon week of vaccinations by inoculating 400 people on Saturday at the hospital’s medical clinic. The hospital gave a total of 1,300 vaccinations last week, about twice the number it has been doing each week, and more than 25% of the total vaccinations provided by the hospital.
North Valley Hospital was able to cut its waiting list for first doses from 800 people at the beginning of last week to about 250 after extending hours and adding staff in its vaccination push, said CEO John McReynolds.
North Valley was the first facility in Okanogan County to receive vaccine shipments in mid-December, and has given 3,600 first doses and 1,200 second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as of early this week, McReynolds said.
“It is super gratifying and morale is high. The patients have been so appreciative and our staff has received numerous thank you notes, flowers and gift baskets,” McReynolds said.
“However, it is a small group of people that are working very long hours and many of them put in over 60 hours last week. In addition to our normal clinic staff, we have hired or reassigned five employees and have many others that help out as they are able. The extended hours and weekends we can do occasionally, but even with the extra staff it’s hard to keep up,” he said.
“We talk a lot about a marathon instead of a sprint. The work is so important and we want to sprint all of the time, but everyone recognizes we are also running a marathon, McReynolds added.”
Second doses prioritized
Washington’s Department of Health (DOH), which allocates vaccine throughout the state, directed providers to last week to prioritize giving second doses, to ensure there is enough vaccine to complete the two-dose series — even if it means giving vaccine designated for first doses.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be given three weeks apart, and the Moderna vaccine should be given four weeks apart.
Providers in Okanogan County reported having enough vaccine for second doses, and are trying to whittle away at waiting lists for first doses. However, unpredictable vaccine supply from the federal government and state has hindered those efforts.
Providers in Washington requested more than 440,000 doses of vaccine last week, including 281,000 first doses and 165,750 second doses, but the state received just over 200,000 doses from the federal government — less than half the amount requested, state health officials said.
“We’ve had to reduce our in-clinic vaccinations and the number we hoped to plan at vaccine events,” said James Wallace, chief health officer for Family Health Centers. “We’re not working through our list as fast as we’d like, but we’re getting all the doses we have out.”
Mid-Valley Hospital has not received any first dose allocations of Moderna vaccine in two weeks, and had a list of 982 people waiting for their first shot as of early this week, said Richard Morales, director of public relations.
The hospital plans to continue using the county fairgrounds as a centralized location for vaccination events when supplies are available, Morales said. The hospital used Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provided by North Valley Hospital for the first two events.
“We are receiving enough vaccine to cover our second doses,” said Jennifer Best, a spokesperson for Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, which is providing Moderna vaccine. McReynolds said North Valley Hospital has been able to keep all second dose appointments on the recommended schedule.
Three Rivers Hospital will host an appointment-only vaccine event at Liberty Bell High School next week to provide second doses to 250 people who got their first doses there last month, Best said. “Once we’re able to do first doses again, the plan is to schedule events once per week off-site and then go back to the same location to give the second doses about a month later,” she said.
Okanogan County vaccine providers have been collaborating to make the vaccination process as efficient as possible. “Last week, we gave a list of about 90 people to Family Health Centers when they said they had extra first doses they wanted to schedule for Saturday’s event,” Best said.
“In turn, they’re providing us a list of the people they vaccinated so we can remove them from our waiting list and streamline our scheduling process once we’re able to resume [first doses]. This is just one example of the great teamwork our facilities are doing to meet the need for our county,” Best said.
“Collaboration with community partners has been historic, and the outpouring of volunteer support is inspirational,” said Wallace. Vaccine providers are working toward a more centralized registration and information system to streamline the process, and have had assistance from Okanogan County Emergency Management in providing notifications.
To reduce confusion for the public and providers, Best recommended that people register for a vaccination with only one facility, rather than registering at multiple locations. Providers schedule appointments in chronological order based on the registration date, so people should expect a waiting period before getting an appointment.
“For example, if we’re still scheduling people who registered around Jan. 21, then someone who registered on Feb. 15 is probably not going to be contacted for the same [vaccine] event because there are hundreds of other people waiting ahead of them,” Best said.
The federal government announced last week that it will begin providing a three-week forecast of vaccine allocations to states, which is intended to reduce some of the uncertainty about vaccine supplies.
“Currently we are notified on Friday morning of the doses we’ll get the following week, so we can’t schedule and can’t plan any farther ahead with much certainty,” Wallace said.
“A three-week allocation forecast would be really helpful to our team,” Best said. “We’d have an idea of what to expect for supply, and we’d have a bit more time to organize vaccination events. I think the community would appreciate it too, as they’re … contacting us for updates on their wait list status.”
McReynolds said he hoped the forecasts could be made specific for counties and providers, to provide more certainty about scheduling appointments.
Last week state health officials announced a milestone of 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in Washington. About 26,000 people on average are getting vaccinated each day, DOH said. In Okanogan County, about 7,675 doses had been administered as of Feb. 13, and 1,799 people had received both doses.
Under the state’s eligibility guidelines, vaccinations are currently open to Phases 1A, which includes health care workers at risk of COVID-19 infection, first responders, people who live or work in long-term care facilities, and 1B Tier 1, which includes anyone 65 and older, and people 50 and older who live in a multigenerational household.
“It’s been very frustrating for the B1 group to get vaccinated as quickly as everyone would have liked,” McReynolds said. “I believe the tide is turning and supply is catching up with demand. Every day we vaccinate more people than sign up and waitlists are shrinking while we continue to chip away at all of the eligible patients.”
The next phase as described by DOH, 1B Tier 2, would include high-risk critical workers 50 years or older who work in certain congregate settings such as agriculture; food processing, grocery stores, schools, child care, corrections, prisons, jails or detention centers, public transit, fire and law enforcement.
“We’re continuing to vaccinate in-phase, but advocating strongly for our ability to move ahead into subsequent tiers of 1B,” said Wallace, who is chief health officer for Okanogan Public Health as well as Family Health Centers. “It’s hard to watch as other states vaccinate all front-line essential workers and people with high-risk comorbidities, because these are highly vulnerable groups and we need to get them protected.”