Skagit County Public Health is implementing several improvements to its COVID-19 vaccine scheduling process after facing staggering demand in the first week of its rollout.

While the county devoted four full-time staff to take appointments, Communicable Disease and Environmental Health Manager Polly Dubbel said it’s doubtful anything could have been done to keep up with demand.

“I know it’s super frustrating, but I don’t know if we could have met call demand with any number of (phone) lines,” she said.

Phone scheduling for vaccinations through Public Health, Skagit Regional Health and Island Hospital began this week for those 65 and older and those 50 and older who live in multigenerational homes. All were overrun with calls.

Dubbel said improvements for the county’s scheduling are being made.

An online, state-run vaccine scheduling tool, called PrepMod, was brought online Friday, and is available under Vaccine and Vaccination Site Information at skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home, she said.

Dubbel said the county started with phone appointments because it wasn’t given a date it could expect the online system to be ready, and felt waiting for its launch to start scheduling would have been a mistake.

Based on feedback, she said it’s clear phone scheduling is less than ideal, but setting some appointments is better than setting none.

Starting Monday, the county is increasing the number of those taking appointments from four to 10 to help those who aren’t able or are uncomfortable using the online system, and the county is expanding hours.

Starting Monday, phone appointments will be taken at 360-416-1500 from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. From then on, phones will be manned 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, according to county spokesperson Laura Han.

As with county Public Health, Skagit Regional Health was unable to keep up with demand with its scheduling hotline, 360-814-6300, according to CEO and President Brian Ivie.

“Obviously we can’t do this simply with a phone approach,” he said.

The health care provider has added the ability to make appointments through its online patient portal, MyChart. At this time only existing patients can use this service, Ivie said.

He said the provider has been able to administer about 240 vaccines a day since the state entered Phase 1b on Tuesday.

However, because the provider doesn’t know how many doses it will receive next week, Ivie said new appointments are on hold and it’s possible some existing appointments may have to be canceled.

Skagit County Public Health was sent 1,000 doses of the vaccine this week to use at its clinic at the county fairgrounds, and Dubbel expects a similar-sized shipment next week.

The county wants to ensure that it doesn’t overbook, and won’t make more appointments than it has vaccine to give, she said.

Dubbel said she expects more consistency in weekly vaccine shipments soon, and at that point the county will be able to make appointments more than a week out.

Michael Green was one of the many seeking an appointment this week.

Over two days, the 76-year-old Green called Skagit Regional Health’s appointment hotline 250 times, and each time was met with a busy signal.

“There are going to be a lot of pissed off residents in Skagit County,” he said. “Nobody should have to make 250 calls.”

Green said his issue has nothing to do with the allotment of vaccine, but with an apparent lack of planning and coordination between providers, the county and the state Department of Health.

As late as Thursday, county Public Health was not included on the state Department of Health’s list of vaccine providers, meaning people like Green didn’t necessarily know they could call.

He eventually reached out to Public Health and made an appointment after being told the county was providing the vaccine, he said.

The fact that the state online scheduling tool was not ready forced providers to rely on inefficient, easily overloaded phone registration, he said. Pushing people to try and schedule by phone was “guaranteed to frustrate and piss people off,” he said.

Ivie apologizes to those who, like Green, were unable to set appointments, saying it was “absolutely unacceptable.”

In Anacortes this week, Island Hospital’s first public vaccine clinics scheduled for next week filled up in 22 minutes Wednesday.

The next Island Hospital sign-up session will be at noon next Wednesday, depending on if an allotment by the state is received.

Elsewhere in the county, The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is using 114 doses of its vaccine allotment to vaccinate employees of the La Conner School District.

While the date of the vaccinations has not been set, school district Superintendent Rich Stewart said he’s prioritizing para-educators, certificated staff and bus drivers for the first appointments.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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