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Questions linger in Washington State about effect of federal vaccine delays

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 15, 2021

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient.  (HOGP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (HOGP)

This week, Washington state was scheduled to receive another 123,275 COVID-19 vaccine doses.

That number might remain flat next week amid reports Friday by the Washington Post that despite the hope and federal announcements of expanded access to vaccines across the nation, the supplies are not there .

The disclosure echoes the concerns of state health officials this week. While they acknowledged that Washington’s vaccine distribution has lagged, they also said they were not confident in having a stable supply of vaccines streaming into the state.

The state does not receive projections for future vaccine supply two or three weeks in advance, which inhibits both the state and local providers’ ability to plan for vaccination clinics or appointments, according to the state Department of Health.

“The key is getting more doses into states, so those states can get them to local communities and into the arms of people,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. “However without consistent and enhanced vaccine supply, by (federal officials) making pronouncements we are simply having people get into even longer lines, which only adds to the frustration and consternation.”

The news that the federal stockpile of vaccines is not a reality means that some communities might have to wait longer to receive more doses.

“What we learned this morning is there is not this massive stockpile of vaccines at the federal level,” Northeast Tri County Health District Administrator Matt Schanz told reporters Friday. “So how (does) that announcement at the federal level affect Washington state? They are still trying to analyze what that means.”

Schanz said that on calls with other health districts and state health officials, the universal question is: “What does this mean?”

The Department of Health did not respond to requests regarding what they have learned about the federal vaccine distribution for next week, nor did officials release any new information by Friday evening.

Rural communities, like the three northeastern counties of Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille, might be affected if supplies are limited, especially because they have nearly finished with the first phase of vaccinations.

“It’s going to be an issue of limited supply at this point,” Northeast Tri County Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis said Friday. “(The Department of Health) may allocate to places like King County that hasn’t gone past 1A at this point.”

In short, just because Washington state is lagging behind other states when it comes to administering vaccines, does not mean there is a surplus of supply the state is missing out on either. The urban areas in the state are also still in the midst of Phase 1A, vaccinating frontline health care workers and first responders, whereas some rural communities are waiting to advance their efforts to other groups.

In the next few days, the Department of Health is expected to expand vaccination doses to Washington residents in the first tier of Phase 1B, which includes all residents over the age of 70 and those over the age of 50 in multigenerational households. What that might mean for access will largely depend on the supply.

“If you don’t have the resources there to meet that need, it creates an obvious bottleneck, which is why it’s important we follow some sort of allocation process,” Schanz said.

The Northeast Tri County Health District does not expect to receive any doses of the vaccine this coming week, although some providers in the counties will .

Meanwhile, in Spokane County, the health district is receiving more doses than originally expected . Initially, they were scheduled to receive 700 doses but will now receive 1,900 this coming week. This is a change from the past two weeks, when the district was affected by the supply chain and received less than they asked for.

State remains in Phase 1 of recovery plan

No county will move ahead in the governor’s new recovery plan on Monday, including the “East” region, of which Spokane County is a part .

The “East” region did improve its hospitalization admission rate, according to the state’s new metrics, but the region’s percent positivity is still too high to advance to the next phase. The percent positivity must be below 10% for the region to advance .

“We’re meeting three out of four of the metrics, and that’s encouraging,” Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez said in a news release. “It’s our collective efforts to continue following the health measures, avoid gatherings outside our household, and to receive the vaccine when we’re eligible that will keep us moving ahead.”

The “East” region still has a 17% test positivity rate, which is only comparable to high rates seen in central Washington. Other regions, however, including the Puget Sound, are meeting this mark. The Puget Sound has a 7% test positivity rate, but hospital admissions due to COVID-19 have not decreased enough there to move the region forward in reopening.

The Spokane Regional Health District has confirmed 1,602 new COVID-19 cases since Monday. The county continues to represent the second-highest number of cases in any statewide except King County.

Other counties in the “East” region are wary of Spokane County’s effect on the metrics, particularly with the region’s current high rates of transmission.

“We are definitely concerned about our counties being lumped in with larger population centers because it feels like no matter what we do locally to drive down those numbers, it won’t matter to move the needle very much when we’re linked with other larger population areas,” Schanz said.

Friday’s COVID numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 247 new cases on Friday and three more deaths.

Since Monday, 19 Spokane County residents died from COVID-19, bringing the number to 443 deaths thus far in the pandemic.

There are 121 patients being treated for the virus in Spokane’s hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 153 new cases on Friday and six more deaths in residents due to the virus.

There are 74 Panhandle residents hospitalized for the virus. Kootenai Health is treating 68 patients with COVID-19, with 21 patients in the critical care unit.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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