Revised approach targets people with limited access
About four months into the state effort to distribute doses of the COVID-19 vaccines at state-run mass vaccination events, the state Department of Health (DOH) announced last week plans to transition to mobile vaccination clinics.
This new phase of vaccine outreach will help the state reach people who have experienced barriers in vaccine access and help distribute life-saving shots more equitably and conveniently across the state of Washington, DOH said.
North Valley Hospital, based in Tonasket, began its own mobile vaccination effort at the beginning of May, targeting remote communities in the hospital district including Loomis and Wauconda. The district used a small bus that it already owned, with a small refrigerator to transport the vaccine.
John McReynolds, CEO of North Valley Hospital district, said the changes at the state level will not have a direct impact on local efforts.
“In Okanogan County we are struggling with the same issue, that the large mass vaccination events take a lot of time and labor to plan, organize, set up, and staff. When we have fewer people coming to the big events we cross a threshold where it stops making sense,” he said.
“As we move forward, vaccine delivery in more traditional venues (clinics and pharmacies) and non-traditional (pop-up or mobile clinics) will likely replace the mass vaccination events,” McReynolds said.
Locally, Aero Methow Rescue Service and the Methow Valley School District have hosted vaccination events, with help from providers including Family Health Centers, while the Okanogan County Fairgrounds has had large events in the central part of the county.
Family Health Centers (FHC) is still planning large events to vaccinate agricultural workers, including events scheduled for May 28 and June 1. Over those two events, FHC plans to vaccinate just under 950 people.
“Since opening Jan. 26, our four state-led mass vaccination sites have administered nearly 300,000 doses of vaccine,” said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah. “This remarkable achievement could not have been attained if it wasn’t for the hard work of DOH staff, the Washington National Guard, our local and private sector partners, as well as our community members who visited these sites to get vaccinated. This transition isn’t closing a door to vaccine opportunity but opening several new ones that will allow for more equitable vaccine access in the future.”
The state’s mobile vaccine units have already given 32,000 doses of vaccine. The DOH plans to make more announcements about the mobile vaccine providers in coming weeks.
The state’s mass vaccination site in Spokane will stay open, sites in Ridgefield and Kennewick will close and a Wenatchee site will transfer management to the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
By the numbers
More than 6.5 million doses of vaccine have been given across the state, according to the DOH, and more than 59% of people 16 and over have had at least one dose.
“For the first time, we are getting a look at how many 12- to 15-year-olds are being vaccinated in Washington since eligibility expanded to the younger age group May 13,” the DOH reported in a news release.
The DOH reported that between May 13 and May 15, 27,934 people age 12 to 15 years old received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Washington — 7.4% of that population and more than double the national average vaccination rate of 3.6% for 12 to 15-year-olds.
“DOH is proud thousands of families are choosing to get their children vaccinated to protect them and help us stop the virus from spreading,” the new release stated.
On Thursday (May 20) Pfizer updated its guidance on the vaccine, allowing providers to store it in a normal refrigerator for up to one month after it is thawed, said Julie Wehmeyer, employee health and infection control manager at Family Health Centers. Because of that change, FHC’s Twisp Clinic will have a limited number of Pfizer vaccines starting this week for children 12 and up.
“If anyone is interested in their child receiving this vaccine, please call the Twisp FHC clinic,” she said.
The DOH is encouraging families to catch up on other vaccinations students might have missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reported that the CDC advises people can get other vaccines at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.
The DOH also announced this week the creation of its “vaccine marketplace,” which will function like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for vaccine providers. Providers can report on the program, attached to the state’s Immunization Information System, when they have extra doses.
“Before placing weekly vaccine orders, we strongly encourage providers to check the IIS marketplace to see if there is vaccine already available near them,” the DOH reported. “The program will help with vaccine transfers and reduce vaccine waste.
This week, Washington was scheduled to be allocated 380,000 doses of vaccine from the federal government.
Still need a shot?
For more information on how to get vaccinated in Okanogan County, or to sign up for a vaccination through the county’s portal, go to https://okanogancountycovid19.org/covid-19-vaccine.
All locations of Family Health Centers are giving the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines by appointment, Confluence Health in Omak gives the vaccine every Wednesday by appointment, and each Friday, vaccines are available on a walk-in basis from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Okanogan Fairgrounds, with both Pfizer and Moderna available. Patients age 12 to 17 must have a parent or guardian present.