After weeks of lagging behind the state in the race to vaccinate residents against COVID-19, Lewis County is now faring better as the percentage of locals who have received at least their first dose of a vaccine is steadily climbing.
This time last week, 10.65% of residents had received their first dose, compared to a state average of 18.04%. Now, that number is at 15.2% and inching closer to the state average, which now stands at 21.41%.
A month ago, Lewis County was 39th — last place — in vaccine distribution, a revelation that sparked action on the part of public health officials and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who went to bat with state officials to get more doses pumped into Southwest Washington. Lewis County is now 34th in terms of residents who have initiated vaccine, and 33rd in terms of residents fully vaccinated.
“We’re really starting to see an increase in the percentage of folks who are vaccinated in the county,” Public Health Deputy Director John Abplanalp told commissioners this week.
Lewis County’s progress, according to Emergency Management Deputy Director Andy Caldwell, isn’t necessarily due to a more proportional allotment on behalf of the state. Instead, it’s largely thanks to increased supply nationwide and a more targeted approach to local distribution.
Previously, public health officials said as many one out of every three doses in Lewis County were ending up in the arms of out-of-towners. Now, the county is using “closed links” to get locals signed up for appointments. The closed links mean county-run events are not searchable on the state’s website listing vaccine clinics. Instead, links are being sent out through public health press releases and local lines of communication to ensure doses aren’t snatched up by those driving across county lines.
According to Caldwell, the strategy has proven so effective that as many as 90% of individuals showing up to county-run clinics are now county residents, as opposed to clinics publicized through open links, where that number was around 50-60%.
As of last week, approximately half of Lewis County residents 70 or older had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Abplanalp. A quarter had been fully vaccinated.
State officials have also been praising rapid rollout of vaccines in recent days, with Gov. Jay Inslee announcing this week that 2 million more Washingtonians will become eligible for the vaccine by the end of the month.
This week, Abplanalp told commissioners the county received over 3,000 doses — allocated to public health and other, private clinics — in addition to doses allocated directly from the federal government to local pharmacies. And public health officials expect those numbers to increase in the next month or so.
The increase in doses has yet to overwhelm local efforts, although some public health officials have warned of “volunteer burnout” due to an increasing number of mass clinics, where United Way of Lewis County has organized community members to help direct traffic and relay information to patients. For information on how to volunteer at fairgrounds clinics, go to LewisCountyUW.com.
Eligible residents looking to book an appointment should check phsscovid19.lewiscountywa.gov (and look under “press releases”) for announcements about upcoming clinics. Unless supply issues come up, officials hope to run four clinics per week, each Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday at the fairgrounds.
“Something we’d really like people to keep in mind is if they have that friend or family member who doesn’t have access to the internet, who does qualify to receive a vaccine at this point, consider helping them out and getting them signed up,” Caldwell said. “I think that’s a big part of making sure that we get everybody the option.”