Department of Health Offers Information on Vaccine Allocation, Path Forward

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“You have not been forgotten,” was the message state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah offered to Southwest Washington residents, especially those in counties whose low COVID-19 vaccine allotments made headlines in the past week. 

Shah’s comments came after District 20 lawmakers and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler went to bat with state officials over Lewis and Clark counties’ lagging vaccination rates — largely the result of allocation decisions by the state. State Department of Health (DOH) officials were able to further address the concerns during a Thursday update from the Coronavirus Response Joint Information Center. 

When asked by reporters what calculations led to certain counties being shorted on vaccines — while others saw their vaccination rate soar well past the state’s average — DOH officials repeated that allocation decisions are not simply based on population, but on provider availability, throughput and storage capacity as well as several other factors that may not neatly align with county boundaries. 

Acting Assistant Secretary Michele Roberts also pointed to the high demand in Moderna vaccines, which are easier to transport and store, as a central factor. In counties lagging behind the state, Roberts said, many providers were only requesting Moderna vaccines, which are in shorter supply than the Pfizer vaccines. 

Part of DOH’s efforts to catch up lagging counties — including Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark and Skamania — will include working with local providers and officials to see if they can pivot to handle a surge of Pfizer vaccines. It’s exactly the approach Lewis County is now taking, having accepted 2,000 Pfizer doses this week. 

“I know it’s easy to want to have a preference to which vaccine you want … but when we have such a limited supply of product, we really do need flexibility in our provider community,” Roberts said. “We know that makes it harder on the ground level … But it’s absolutely the situation we’re in with limited resources.”

Increased allotment from the federal level, including as many as 60,900 doses of the new one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, will also help. The new vaccine is expected to be granted emergency use authorization by the FDA in coming days, and will then be vetted by the Washington States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. 

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