More COVID-19 vaccine is heading to Washington, but Washington’s public health officials must fix the fragmented and frustrating system that, for vaccine seekers, seems as daunting as racing voracious bots for sought-after concert tickets.
A new state health director and providers are laying plans to address equity and logistical challenges across public health agencies, private providers and state-led vaccination sites. That’s good. The bad news is just how much more progress is needed.
Nearly two-thirds of the more than 600 people responding to the Metropolitan King County Council chair’s Feb. 6 survey said it was “hard” to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even though they were eligible. Several reported spending hours per day over several weeks searching for an appointment. Some reported searching outside King County in the hopes it would be easier, or simply giving up.
If English-speaking, tech-savvy folks who can carve out time to chase appointments across multiple providers are having such difficulty, Council Chair Claudia Balducci is especially concerned about the struggles faced by less-privileged populations. She stressed the urgency of making sure a better, coordinated system is in place before vaccination efforts ramp up.
A year into the pandemic, more than a half-million Americans have died from COVID-19, including at least 4,881 people in Washington. As of Saturday, nearly 13% of the state’s residents — or about 961,000 — had received the first dose of vaccine, according to state health statistics. About 412,000 had received the second required dose. Providers were administering an average of 26,380 doses per day — far below the state’s 45,000 daily goal.
Over the next few weeks, Washington is set to receive 146,110 first doses weekly, with second doses gradually increasing to the same amount. Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said there is capacity to administer more vaccine once it is available. This week, providers requested 436,720 total doses of vaccine — 173,150 more doses than the state was scheduled to receive — according to the Department of Health.
A recent Seattle Times investigation seems to show shortcomings in early logistical planning, but the National Guard now is assisting the state Department of Health with mobile vaccination clinics and mass-vaccination sites.
The DOH has formed a Vaccine Implementation Collaborative to increase vaccine access in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and a separate public/private partnership focusing on logistics and process flows. The second group has begun collaborating with the developers of the volunteer-driven WA COVID Vaccine Finder, a DOH spokeswoman said.
These are promising developments, but Washington has a long road ahead before reaching herd immunity.