While continuing to face supply shortages of COVID-19 vaccines that stretch nationwide, Clallam County has been able to coordinate distribution of available doses “faster than anywhere else in the state,” according to Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry.
“To some extent, that’s a low bar,” Berry said at Tuesday’s Clallam County Board of Health meeting. “I think all of us want to deliver the vaccine faster everywhere, but we have a commitment in Clallam to distribute vaccine as fast as it arrives.
“While we cannot control how much vaccine we get and when we get it, it comes into our freezers and out in the community, and we have been able to at this point vaccinate 7,520 citizens in Clallam County, so approximately 10 percent of our population.”
The logistics of receiving vaccines has been complicated by the lack of a strategic federal reserve of doses, despite promises from the now former Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services that such a stockpile existed.
“Certainly, one of the biggest challenges we are facing is we still do not have a consistent, reliable and adequate supply of the vaccine anywhere in our country, including our local community,” Berry said.
“I don’t know if everybody knows this but right now we find out how much vaccine we are going to get into Clallam County about 48 hours before it arrives. That really limits our ability to plan for massive distributions, and there’s no guarantee week over week when we are going to get additional vaccines. That has been quite challenging.”
Berry said the positive news on vaccine dispersal is tied to work at building distribution mechanisms across the county.
“This is…largely driven by partnerships with multiple clinical entities like Jamestown (Tribal Health Clinic), North Olympic Healthcare (Network), Olympic Medical Center, smaller clinics (such as) the Veterans Administration, which has been doing some distribution, and tribal clinics are doing a lot of distribution in their sectors,” Berry said.
She also said “massive input from the county’s Emergency Operations Center volunteer groups have helped get this done, along with a significant contribution from the Port Angeles School District, which gave us access to the Port Angeles High School auxiliary gym.”
Berry said Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal public health plans to continue to schedule mass vaccination events three times a week in Sequim, and those events should soon be available for online scheduling.
“We are helping transition Jamestown to a scheduling platform similar to what we are using, and we want to see if we can get that ready in time for (today), and if not, Saturday. That should solve the traffic and waiting concerns for the population in Sequim.”
Vaccinations have been distributed to more than 500 people in Forks through Forks Community Hospital.
“That’s pretty impressive for a relatively small hospital,” Berry said. “Everyone is stepping up to the plate.”
Clallam County also has vaccinated the “vast majority” of those in group 1A, including health care workers, first responders and those living and working in long-term care facilities that are not part of a federal program to reach those populations.
Other areas, including major population centers, have yet to hit those benchmarks and will have an impact on vaccine roll-out in Clallam County.
“Because there are many jurisdictions, including large ones like King County who haven’t completed 1A, the (state) Department of Health is placing vaccines in those communities (at a higher rate) because we do need our health care workers to have access,” Berry said.
“That means we are seeing decreased vaccine allocations. We have enough to hold clinics (at Port Angeles High School) this weekend, but it’s likely we won’t have enough for next week. So we may pause for a week, maybe two, or do less frequent mass vaccination events.”
Berry said any delay would allow Public Health time to continue to build up distribution infrastructure, including hiring some staff to assist with coordination as the county plans to vaccinate 2,000 people every weekend until reaching herd immunity levels this summer.
The county plans to continue vaccination efforts for those older than age 70 right now and then begin to add in those ages 65 and older, a group that when combined with the 1A recipients, totals more than 27,000 people in the county.
“We are going to keep prioritizing this higher-risk older group and as we get that group vaccinated, groups over the age of 65 will be added,” Berry said. The primary issue when you have a low amount of supply is you have to prioritize those doses.
“We plan on spending all of February on 1B1 and start moving into that 1B2 group, which is based off of risk of exposure, people who work in specific congregate settings, grocery stores including food banks, K-12 educators, prisons, jails and correctional facilities and public transit staff. And move into that group in March, coordinating with a mix of mass vaccination events and direct outreach to larger companies to bring vaccine events to those businesses.”