Health officials ask for patience during vexing vaccine situation
— Created February 3, 2021 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
High demand, low supply.
That pretty much sums up the situation when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. For those eligible to get their vaccine, there are difficulties on several fronts – finding where to get it, scheduling an appointment, having appointments canceled, trying to reschedule, trying to get the second dose – the vaccine rollout is, in a word, vexing.
Washington state has opened four mass vaccination centers to get more people vaccinated faster. Because of the need at those centers, more than a third of the incoming vaccine supply received last week was diverted to those centers, meaning less vaccine was received by individual counties. That shortfall in vaccine doses led to the cancellation of appointments at WhidbeyHealth and at Island Drug, the two approved vaccine providers on Whidbey Island.
Officials from the state level on down said it is simply a matter of demand outweighing the supply, but they also said there is reason to be hopeful.
“The federal government was previously providing updates to states with one week’s notice on what their allocations would be…and they initially told us our allocations would be much higher than they wound up being,” Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for Gov. Jay Inslee, said in an email. “[Last] week, the Biden administration told us allocations would be increasing 16 percent and that we would receive a guaranteed minimum notice of what we would be receiving for three weeks. This change from one week’s notice to three weeks’ notice makes planning and distribution a lot smoother.”
There are currently 1.7 million Washington residents who qualify to get the vaccine. As of last week, the state is receiving 100,000 doses per week of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines combined. That’s simply not enough to meet the current demand, regardless of how much vaccine is diverted to the mass vaccination centers.
“No matter where we direct these resources it will not be enough for any one community, regardless of whether it’s a high-density urban area or an isolated rural community,” Faulk said. “Right now the state is trying to distribute resources all over the state to build the infrastructure for the mass vaccination effort that will hit full steam later in the spring and summer.”
A spokesman for the State Department of Health told Whidbey Weekly via email that vaccines must go to those most at risk first and to where demand is the highest.
“Sometimes that means we have to move vaccine from one facility to another, or maybe send it to a mass vaccination clinic,” said Shelby Anderson, a public information officer for DOH. “This may mean your appointment gets rescheduled, or you aren’t able to get an appointment quickly. That is difficult, but while we have more people wanting and needing the vaccine now than we do number of vaccines, many of us will have to keep dealing with this. Please be patient and know that while you may not get the vaccine today, you will get it soon.”
The uncertainty of how many doses of vaccine will be received has made it extremely hard for local providers to schedule appointments with any kind of certainty.
“Due to past experiences over the last few weeks, we do not have expectations for the allocation delivery,” said Conor O’Brien, WhidbeyHealth marketing manager. “We have requested enough combined doses of prime and booster vaccines to meet our capacity of up to 200 vaccination doses distributed per day. We are in the unfortunate position of not being able to provide the specific vaccine dose information until the vaccine is physically delivered and in our hands. To avoid potential cancellations or postponements we will only be making appointments available based on the number of vaccine doses we receive.”
Still more questions surround the ability to get the second dose of vaccine needed to achieve the best immunity. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses – 21 days after the first shot for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days for Moderna. Health officials say there is enough vaccine to ensure everyone will receive their second dose, they just can’t say with certainty where people will have to get it.
“We are committed to ensuring there is a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine for everyone who gets their first dose,” Anderson said. “We realize finding a location for a second dose can be frustrating. If you are unable to return to the place where you received your first dose of vaccine, please check the vaccine location list on the DOH website for additional sites as it changes frequently. We are working to provide vaccine in multiple locations to improve access.”
There is also a small bit of wiggle room with the timing of the second dose, should one not be able to get it at exactly the 21- or 28-day mark, depending on which vaccine was administered.
“There is some variance allowed for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in regard to when the second dose is administered,” said O’Brien. “The vaccine manufacturers do allow for a minimal plus or minus on the administration of the second dose; three days plus or minus from the 21 to 28 day mark is allowable without known adverse reactions or diminishing results of the vaccine is the guidance provided.”
Anderson gave an even larger window for receiving the second dose.
“If you are not able to get a second dose appointment following the recommended interval, the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be scheduled for administration up to six weeks, or 42 days, after the first dose,” she said. “There is currently limited data on efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines administered beyond this window.”
Once again, it comes down to supply and demand.
“There have been allocation and distribution challenges with Pfizer throughout the country,” O’Brien said. “Like the others, we have requested an allocation of Pfizer booster doses to ensure that we are able to administer the dose to those who have received their prime dose. We projected that those looking to receive their booster of Pfizer after Feb. 12 would need to seek vaccine elsewhere, but in this constantly changing environment, we may be allocated Pfizer doses – we’re just unsure at this point until we physically receive the vaccine.”
Whidbey Weekly reached out to Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman last week regarding how the state’s reallocation of vaccine has impacted the amount of vaccine received in Island County, but we did not receive a response. However, in a Facebook live presentation last week, Higman told viewers the county is receiving approximately 1,200 doses per week. Higman said he believes the frustration and confusion surrounding the vaccine are problems that will be resolved and there will be opportunities for all those wanting the vaccine to get it.
“Please, please don’t take your frustration out on the people right now who are trying to help you,” he said. “They’re trying to get vaccine into your arm and they’re trying to provide you protection.
“Let’s just be patient,” Higman continued. “We will have vaccine. It will come. We will all have access to it at some point in the future. It’s something none of us can control. We aren’t the pharmaceutical companies producing this vaccine and getting it out to the world. We have no control over that system. So we’re just gonna be patient, think good thoughts, stay healthy, get some exercise and pay attention to the news and information we send out that hopefully will let you know when it’s going to be easier to access COVID vaccine in Island County.”
To find out whether you are eligible to receive a vaccine, go to FindYourPhaseWA.org. If you’re not eligible now, it will let you know when you are and will let you know who the vaccine providers are in your area. For other information and updates on the COVID vaccine, visit doh.wa.gov, islandcountywa.gov, whidbeyhealth.org and islanddrug.com/pages/covidvaccine/.