Providers fear slow-down
By Natalie Johnson
Starting April 15, anyone 16 or older was eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Washington. However, some providers in Okanogan County worry it’s getting harder to fill appointments for first shots.
“Last week North Valley Hospital gave 300 COVID immunizations,” North Valley Hospital District CEO John McReynolds said early Monday. “Even with the 550 patients registered in the shared county system waiting for vaccine, it is becoming much harder to fill all the available appointment slots.”
Maurice Goodall, director of emergency management for the county and manager of the county’s COVID-19 sign-up platform, said there were 60 shots available in Tonasket Tuesday morning, but that he was struggling to find arms for those vaccines.
“I have found them 33 people,” he said.
The number of people signing up for vaccines each week has varied in the past month. The week of March 15, 881 people signed up, compared with 384 the week of March 22, 657 the week of March 29 and 402 between April 5 and 12.
Between April 13 and the morning of Tuesday, April 20, 289 had signed up. Of those, on Tuesday morning about 130 had already been connected with a provider and gotten their first shot.
A walk-in vaccine clinic organized at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds over the weekend attracted just over 200 people, Goodall added, about half what past events have drawn despite not requiring pre-registration.
“It’s dropping, the amount of people that are showing up,” he said. “There’s interest out there and we have these people signing up, but we’re having a lot of people saying it’s not a good time for me, but keep me on the list.”
A total of 519 people in the county had signed up, but not gotten their first shot for one reason or another as of Tuesday, he said. Emergency Management has started sending notifications to everyone signed up, regardless of their preferred location, when there is an appointment or event with availability in an attempt to fill more appointments.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are still wanting it,” Goodall said. “I don’t know what the answer is.”
The Moderna vaccine is approved for adults 18 or older, while the Pfizer vaccine is approved for teens as young as 16. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved for adults, but is still on pause throughout the country after rare blood clots were reported as a possible side effect. North Valley Hospital gave 67 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine before it was paused, McReynolds said.
“We contacted all of the patients via phone or email and made sure they were aware of the recent news,” he said. “Overall most patients were very comfortable because of the extremely rare incidents of severe side effects, but I do think it will impact those people that were on the fence about getting the vaccine in the first place.”
Family Health Centers received thousands of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, many of them for agriculture workers though a federal program designed to get vaccines to underserved communities, the Methow Valley News previously reported. Family Health Centers has vaccinated 3,600 people in the county, and continues to hold events in partnership with other health organizations and agriculture employers for their workers.
“Based on my knowledge, we have not seen a reluctance to get the vaccine, although some people are stating they are waiting for the Janssen/J&J vaccine to be approved for use again,” said Julie Wehmeyer, employee health/infection control manager at Family Health Centers.
Okanogan County has given 27,509 doses total as of Monday, with 37.4% of residents having had at least one shot, and 30.15% fully vaccinated, leading the statewide statistics of 35.9% with at least one shot and 23.9% fully vaccinated.
That means Okanogan has the second-highest percentage of vaccinated residents in eastern Washington, except for Chelan County, which has 42.56% of its residents with at least one shot and 31.97% fully vaccinated.
“Okanogan County has provided an excellent example of collaboration between hospitals, clinics and Public Health, to meet the needs of all of our communities with regard to vaccination events,” Wehmeyer said. “I believe other counties in Washington state could learn from the collaborative processes implemented.”
COVID-19: by the numbers
Between April 13 and 18 — the most recently reported date as of Tuesday — the county had 30 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Three of those cases were in the Methow Valley, with one in Carlton, one in Methow and one in Winthrop.
That puts Okanogan County at 65 active cases in a two-week period, well within the goal of less than 100 in two weeks for a county in phase 3 of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery strategy.
Counties are evaluated every three weeks, with the next taking place on May 3. Small counties like Okanogan must stay below 100 new cases in two weeks and less than three new COVID-19 hospitalizations in seven days to remain in phase 3.
There have been 2,369 total confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths in the county, according to Public Health.