A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the arrival of vaccines is a long-awaited sign of hope. Yet this glimmer has been dimmed by a frustratingly slow rollout. While the federal abdication is reprehensible, Washington state must own that it has botched the first phase and make things right.
The hard truth is that it will take many months before enough Washingtonians are immunized for the public’s health. That is mainly because the federal government didn’t lead the rollout strongly enough. But that’s true in 49 other states too. One month since the first doses of vaccine arrived in Washington, the state’s distribution lags many others.
There is no good reason for Washington to rank 36th among U.S. states in initial COVID-19 vaccine shots administered per capita. There is an appalling one: Washington ranks 26th in the percentage of received vaccines that have been delivered to patients.
As of Jan. 13, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics showed that Washington had delivered just 36.4% of 572,600 doses of vaccine received. Only 2.7% of Washington adults had gotten their first shot of two required. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, said the vaccination rate to beat back the pandemic may be close to 90% of the over-16 population.
The state’s health system must hasten this pace. As more vaccines arrive and rollout advances from medical workers and nursing-home residents into the general population, the new Secretary of Health, Dr. Umair Shah, and Gov. Jay Inslee will need to persuade the reluctant that inoculation is safe, convenient and trustworthy.
The credibility is missing today. Where other states are allowing residents to register online for notification of eligibility, technology-focused Washington is still working on that. State officials won’t say how many doses have been wasted during prolonged storage due to mishandling. How many exposure alerts have gone out to Washington smartphones? No answer is available.
Federal mismanagement left the states in the wind on vaccination, one of many bungled segments of President Donald Trump’s disastrous pandemic response. Had the administration devoted resources to the robust vaccine distribution strategy U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., detailed in a July 13 white paper, states wouldn’t have had to do so much legwork to devise strategies. Six months later, that national program is still shamefully absent.
Inslee explained Jan. 5 that Washington’s numbers lag the actual doses given because of manual record entry. This admits Washington failed to construct a vaccine-tracking infrastructure efficient enough to report data in real time. Remember, the CDC data say 25 other states have been better at delivering medicine. Inslee’s data-entry excuse implies those other states are instead better at designing technology needed to track immunizations. That’s a truly dubious assertion from the leader of tech-focused Washington.
As frustrating as the facts are, they must be shown in full light. A lack of willing recipients, a shortage of medical professionals to provide shots, or inadequate facilities and storage may all be factors in Washington’s immunization lag, Dr. Ali Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington told this editorial board. Identifying and fixing the problems is an urgent statewide need.
“We had six months to prepare for it,” Mokdad said. “We didn’t do it. So let’s not blame anybody, but let’s face it.”
Indeed. The responsibility here is to fix the flaws and get shots into arms. The slower this happens, the more people will suffer. Seattle and King County have righteously announced plans to stand up mass-inoculation programs. Washington deserves a full accounting for why the statewide rollout is taking so much painful time.