VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Clark County is receiving fewer doses of COVID-19 vaccines than other Washington counties with similar-sized populations and KOIN 6 wanted to know why.
So we asked Governor Jay Inslee.
Washington is currently in Phase 1B1 of vaccinations, meaning all people above 70 and people above 50 living in multi-generational households are eligible. Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said there are 37,000 people in that category who are registered to receive a vaccine — but they’ve been kept waiting.
Melnick still wants to know why Clark County continues to receive “significantly fewer doses” per capita than other counties.
The discrepancy has attracted public notice in a round-about way. People in the county have started voicing concerns about why Clark County hasn’t vaccinated eligible groups quicker.
Melnick told KOIN 6 News the Clark County health department, as well as the hospital systems and clinics providing the vaccine, are not at fault.
“What really concerns me about this is it gives the impression that our providers are not doing their job — they’re doing an excellent job. When they have the vaccine, they have the capability of administering it,” Melnick explained.
During a press conference with Gov. Inslee on Thursday, KOIN 6 brought up the issue and asked what is being done about vaccine allocation disparities which Public Health data shows are specifically affecting Clark County.
“There’s apparently a problem where the county didn’t feel equipped to receive the Pfizer vaccine as I understand it, which up until now required very cold chain storage system,” Inslee said. “And because people were not equipped to accept, or would not accept that vaccine, this has been an issue.”
The governor went on to say that the state has tried to help by providing more storage facilities.
“But because that was a problem for them, the state didn’t have as many Pfizer [doses] available because we had to give some of the providers Moderna for the second dose because they’d used some of their doses for their first dose,” Inslee said. “So long and short of it, I think improvements are going to be made. There’s an effort to try and be as fair as possible on this and I think the department is attempting to do that.”
Melnick disagreed, telling KOIN 6 on Thursday that storage isn’t the problem.
“I’m going to repeat myself several times: the ability to either receive, store, or administer Pfizer vaccine has not been the reason for the lack of allocation to Clark County,” he said. “We have the ability in our county to receive, store and administer Pfizer vaccine.”
In fact, Melnick said Legacy and Peace Health have had ultra-cold freezer capacity on hand since the vaccines were first being delivered. He said despite having a sufficient freezer, many of Peace Health’s repeated requests to the state for Pfizer doses have been denied. Meanwhile, the state only just approved Vancouver Clinic’s Pfizer freezer despite having applied weeks ago.
“They ordered 2,300 doses of Pfizer vaccine last week from the state and they were denied, they were refused,” said Melnick.
Melnick said the solution to vaccine allocation disparities in Clark County will require “a longer conversation with the state health department about how we communicate, how we make decisions, how the allocation process from our perspective works.”
“I’ve heard the metrics the state is using to determine what the allocation is by county: it’s a population, pro-rata number, it may have to do with provider input, social vulnerability index, income distribution — things like that,” said Melnick. “What I’d like to see is how the state is applying those metrics. I think we need better communication and more transparency in terms of how that works.”
The state did reach out to Clark County Public Health over the weekend, saying there are additional Pfizer doses. The county should find out Friday how many they can expect to receive for next week.
KOIN 6 reached out to the Washington Department of Health and received the following statement:
“It has always been a priority to get counties their proportional share of vaccine. There are several factors that determine allocation, including data we receive from providers and local health jurisdictions. DOH knew a few counties were experiencing a gap in vaccine allocation largely due to second dose reallocations in recent weeks. In an effort to solve this issue, we reached out to those counties over the weekend and offered them the Pfizer vaccine. We followed up with them again Wednesday. This is a complex issue with many moving parts. The good news is, our allocations from the federal government are increasing and our vaccination rates across the state are as well. More than 77% of the 1.8 million doses delivered to Washington have been administered, which helps protect us all by building community immunity. This was also addressed by Dr. Shah in yesterday’s briefing and in our news release.”