Vaccine supply still not meeting demand

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The gap between Covid-19 vaccine supply and demand still exist, Whatcom County health officials said during a January 27 press conference.

As of last Thursday, the number of vaccines delivered to Whatcom County is only enough to vaccinate 23 percent of the estimated 59,000 people currently eligible in the county, said Amy Hockenberry, Whatcom County Health Department’s vaccine planning lead. Vaccines are being administered statewide to people in Phase 1a, healthcare workers, and Phase 1b Tier 1, people who are 65 years or older and those 50 years old who live in multigenerational households. Hockenberry acknowledged difficulty in estimating people who qualify as living in multigenerational households, such as people who live with their grandparents.

Hockenberry said she predicts the county will be administering the vaccine to the groups currently eligible until at least March.

It’s been over a month since the first vaccines arrived in mid-December and county health department officials said they are still unable to predict the number of vaccines it will receive each week.

“Vaccine allocations into the county are fluctuating from week to week, which makes planning quite difficult for everyone,” Hockenberry said. “As vaccine allocations are fluctuating in the county, they are also fluctuating in the state.”

The health department doesn’t expect the state to help with mass vaccination clinics in Whatcom County, but is working with PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, Family Care Network, Sea Mar Community Health Center and Unity Care NW to create a mass vaccination clinic when the county has a vaccine supply enough to do so.

“Even if we have all our plans in place and a location set up, that will still be dependent on supply,” Hockenberry said. “We’re looking at having plans in place in the next couple of weeks and be running by the end of February or early March. It could be sooner, or it could be later, based on supply.”

Health department director Erika Lautenbach said mass vaccination works well when few vaccine providers exist in an area but counties like Whatcom County, which has 26 enrolled providers, isn’t waiting on a large site to start vaccinations.

“The capacity to do more, right out of the gate, far exceeds the supply we have,” Lautenbach said. “There’s a tool that could be a centralized place but there are also so many providers that have more capacity than supply that we could ramp up very quickly even without a mass vaccination site.”

The state’s four mass vaccination sites that began last week in Spokane, Ridgefield, Wenatchee and Kennewick are expected to affect Whatcom County’s vaccination supply, Hockenberry said.

The health department hosts weekly meetings with the county’s Covid-19 vaccine providers on vaccinating capacity.

People who have received the first dose don’t need to worry about there not being enough vaccines for a second dose because those are already allocated to providers who received their first dose, Hockenberry said.

The health department asks people with inquiries on when they’ll get vaccinated not to call healthcare providers and to wait for their healthcare provider to contact them.

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