Lewis County Says State’s Mass Vaccine Sites Hinder Local Efforts

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Amid a county- and statewide struggle to get Washington’s aging population — especially those with limited internet access or capabilities — vaccinated against COVID-19, Lewis County officials say state guidance, or lack thereof, is hindering local efforts. 

Although the state’s four new mass drive-through sites aim to boost overall vaccination rates, Public Health Director J.P. Anderson says they’re counter to the targeted approach required to reach specific populations. He noted that local officials have received no guidance as to how to get seniors who can’t drive to those sites. The closest site is in Ridgefield, an hour away from Centralia, and providing mass transportation to seniors who can’t drive isn’t a safe option in a pandemic.

As state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah alluded to last month, the mass vaccination sites have also siphoned off doses that would otherwise be allocated to local providers. This week, Anderson reported that the county only expected about 600 doses to roll in from the state, likely due to how many doses are being funneled to the mass vaccination sites. 

“It seems fundamentally counterproductive to (Inslee’s) desire to reduce infection rates,” County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock said of the mass vaccination sites. 

Commissioner Stamper echoed the sentiment. 

“Once again, the underserved are being left holding the door for everyone else,” he said. “And I’m very concerned about that.”

Last week, at the request of the Department of Health, Lewis County submitted a plan detailing how it would help host one of the state’s mass vaccination sites. It’s unclear when more would be set up, though, or if Lewis County has a shot. But officials noted that out-of-towners are already driving to Lewis County to get the vaccine, indicating that it may be an optimal central location for Southwest Washington.

Regarding the state’s approach, Lewis County Seniors Executive Director Glenda Forga also lambasted Inslee’s recent response to concerns that seniors without internet connection or with little technical capabilities are facing major barriers to landing vaccine appointments. In a press conference last week, Inslee said help would largely have to come from individuals — neighbors and grandkids, for example — stepping up.

“It’s good to be a nice neighbor … but to depend on that for a solution, for the end-all solution, I’m really disappointed in that line of thinking with our leadership,” Forga said. “I really am.”

When Lewis County Seniors operated a homebound meal program years ago — now spearheaded by a different organization — then-program coordinator Forga said she saw first-hand how many seniors have little to no support network. No neighbors or family members means no one to guide them through the Department of Health’s website or to drive them to a clinic. 

Now, Anderson says Lewis County Seniors may play a critical role in reaching those residents. The nonprofit agrees, but says conversations so far have been stunted.

“We have logistics, we have routes, we have names, we have phone numbers,” Forga said Tuesday. “Conversations need to happen now.”

Plans have been floated to use the nonprofit’s existing meal delivery program as a means to get information or the vaccine itself out to seniors. And while Anderson said Lewis County Seniors will be an asset in the effort to get the county’s most vulnerable residents vaccinated, he also noted that planning will only begin “in earnest” once Bird’s Eye Medical — a provider contracting with the county — begins receiving doses from the state. As of Wednesday, that hasn’t happened. 

Anderson and Health Officer Dr. Wood said this week that they will advocate for the state to allocate a larger cut of vaccines to the county, given its large population of seniors and people without internet connection.

 

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