As many eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine wait to get an appointment, Skagit County Public Health and other health care providers are encountering small, inconsistent shipments of doses.
The biggest barrier to vaccinating more people is simply a lack of doses, not just in Skagit County but nationally, said county spokesperson Laura Han.
Shelby Anderson, spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said limited federal delivery of the vaccine is the biggest problem the state is facing, but issues with consistency are starting to get worked out.
This week, facilities in the state requested 430,275 doses of vaccine, compared to the 165,850 the state was given, according to a news release from the department.
For the first time, the federal government has given the state a three-week projection of the number of doses it can expect to receive, and it’s a marked increase over what was sent this week, Anderson said.
While these amounts are subject to change, she said the state can expect between 206,000 and 240,000 doses over each of the next three weeks.
According to state vaccination data, the state has sent 12,075 doses to Skagit County since distribution began, or about 1% of the state’s overall allocation. The county accounts for about 1.7% of the state’s population.
The total number of doses doesn’t count those acquired from other counties or from health care providers outside the county, or doses given directly to pharmacies from the federal government.
Despite the overall numbers, there remain issues with consistency.
During the week of Jan. 25 — the first week that county Public Health’s vaccination clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds was open to more than first responders and health care workers — 1,340 people got their first dose.
However, no first doses were delivered this week, and the Department of Health has told county Public Health to expect no first doses next week.
“It is just so incredibly frustrating to find out … we get nothing,” said county Commissioner Lisa Janicki upon hearing this news. “It’s so patently unfair.”
The county has invested heavily in its vaccination site, and it is dismaying to see it sit unused, she said.
County Public Health and health care providers have said the inconsistency in the size of shipments keeps them from being able to reliably set vaccination appointments.
Over the past three weeks, Skagit Regional Health’s Mount Vernon vaccine clinic acquired 3,860 doses, including 975 from the state this week, according to data provided by spokesperson Kari Ranten.
The week of Jan 25, it was given 700 from the state and 900 from other health care providers, and the week of Jan. 18 it received 1,285.
As of Thursday, about 44,000 eligible people were on the provider’s wait-list.
While Skagit Regional Health leadership had wanted to make appointments further than a week out, CEO and President Brian Ivie said the inconsistent dose allocations make that impossible. Staff don’t want to set appointments without knowing the vaccine is coming.
“Having a steady, consistent supply of vaccine would allow us to better serve our communities and make progress towards achieving herd immunity to help stem the tide of COVID-19, which, of course, is our collective goal,” Ivie said in an email.
Anderson said shipments have started to become more consistent, and the Department of Health will be able to offer providers a better idea of what’s coming now that it’s giving a three-week projection.
She didn’t specifically address how Skagit County’s allotment has been so inconsistent.
Ivie said based on meetings with other providers and information from the Washington State Hospital Association, it’s clear the supply issue is not unique to Skagit County.
Ranten said if supply wasn’t an issue, she believed Skagit Regional Health’s Mount Vernon site could vaccinate about 1,500 people per week. Another 1,200 could be vaccinated at its clinic in Smokey Point.
Anderson said the Department of Health considers several factors each week when allocating vaccines: the population of eligible individuals, the current inventory of providers, the documented efficiency in administering the vaccine and equity in access.
In addition to distributing doses to counties, the state needs to provide the vaccine to its four mass vaccination clinics. These sites, in Kennewick, Ridgefield, Spokane and Wenatchee, were placed in regions that struggled most with the virus, and are open to any state resident.
“(The doses) are inconsistent because the state is trying to balance several competing interests ... and there just aren’t enough to go around,” Han said.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Wednesday the federal government had sent 1,163,675 doses to the state. At 15,282 doses per 100,000 residents, this amount is 14th highest when compared to other states and U.S. territories.
Of the doses the state has received, 765,954 have been used — 28th highest in the country.
Anderson said the vaccines are sent directly to providers and are not held by the state, meaning the state is not stockpiling doses.
Neither county Public Health nor Skagit Regional Health store the vaccine doses longer than a week, meeting the state goal of using 95% of allocated doses within that time frame.
Next week, a federal partnership with retail pharmacies will bring the vaccine to more sites in the county.
Pharmacies at the Burlington Haggen and at Safeway stores in Mount Vernon and Anacortes are included in the program, according to Safeway spokesperson Sara Osborne. The Mount Vernon Haggen has already been offering the vaccine.
Osborne estimated 100 more doses would come to each pharmacy weekly through this partnership. Appointment websites will start to go up this weekend, she said.
Han said this new program shouldn’t affect how many doses other county providers will receive.