‘I Think That Our Concerns Were Heard’: Lewis County Allocated 2,000 Vaccine Doses

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Lewis County received confirmation Tuesday that it will receive 2,000 first-dose vaccines, allocated by the state Department of Health (DOH).

The doses are expected to arrive by the end of this week.

The announcement comes after The Chronicle reported Saturday that Lewis County is lagging behind the rest of the state in terms of how many residents have received COVID-19 vaccinations. It was a report that garnered the attention of the district’s state lawmakers.

But while Lewis County is getting vaccines, it’s yet to receive answers about why so few doses were sent from the state in the first place, or how allocation decisions are being made.

“It could be that those were equations that made sense to somebody, but that was never anything that was shared with us,” Lewis County Public Health Director J.P. Anderson said Tuesday.

Local public health officials attributed Lewis County’s low vaccination rate to unfair allocations and a “lack of transparency” from the state, prompting a letter from 20th Legislative District lawmakers Sen. John Braun, Rep. Ed Orcutt and Rep. Peter Abbarno to Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday. The lawmakers expressed “significant concerns” and demanded answers about how the state is deciding who gets how many doses.

“The fact is that Lewis County is receiving less doses than other counties,” they wrote. “This is despite Lewis County having a senior population 5% higher than the statewide average.”

Lewis County is no longer last in the state for vaccine distribution, having reached 7.34% of residents with at least one dose and subsequently surpassing Franklin County as of Wednesday. Both counties are still below the state’s average of 12.73%. Clallam County is currently leading the pack at 26.6%.

The county’s Board of Health also submitted information to the DOH over the weekend with the same concerns — one being that the county had received .5% of the state’s vaccines despite being 1% of the state’s population. In recent weeks, the county had only received .1% of the state’s doses.

According to Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee, the decision to pump 2,000 vaccines into Lewis County was made by the DOH, not the governor.

Even so, Anderson said the support of state lawmakers was “very much appreciated and very much felt by our office.”

“I think our concerns were heard,” he said.

And although Lewis County officials are still waiting for answers, Anderson says someone else will have to seek them out.

“For me and my department right now, we’ve got to focus our energy on the operations of getting the medication that we have now sent out,” he said.

The plan is to distribute the doses at the fairgrounds and through the county’s new mobile clinic project, which targets residents 85 and older with mobility issues. For the larger fairgrounds events, the county will ask that only Lewis County residents register. Previously, as many as a third of doses allocated to the county were ending up in the arms of non-residents.

“We think that’s a fair approach given the circumstances,” Anderson told county commissioners Wednesday.

Will the sudden influx of doses overwhelm the county’s system? Anderson said it’ll certainly strain operations on-the-ground. Part of the reason Lewis County was able to acquire 2,000 doses is because local officials agreed to take the less-sought-after Pfizer vaccines, which are more difficult to transport due to their low temperature requirements.

Providence, which spearheaded the county’s first mass vaccination event at the fairgrounds last month, has access to a deep freezer. But at the county’s mobile clinics, Bird’s Eye Medical will be the medical provider, and may have to utilize a local high school’s deep freezer.

“I think given the options of problems to have, a strain because you’re working to get so many people vaccinated is what we want,” Anderson said.

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