PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee has denied Pierce County’s request to receive a boost in COVID-19 vaccines.
Inslee sent a letter Tuesday responding to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier’s request for 55,000 vaccine doses to catch up to the state average immunization rate.
The governor wrote there have been “misunderstandings and misrepresentations about the vaccine allocations to Pierce County,” but he also pointed out that the state has been giving more doses of vaccine than requested to the county in recent weeks.
Dammeier said in a statement to The News Tribune he appreciates the acknowledgment that Pierce County should have gotten thousands more shots, but his concern is more fundamental.
He called the current process “broken” after Pierce County was pushed back to Phase 2 in the state’s reopening plan because of case and hospitalization rates higher than allowed in Phase 3 metrics.
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“A process that puts Pierce County tens of thousands of vaccines behind — and then rolls us back to Phase 2 — is broken,” he said.
Pierce County’s top health official, Dr. Anthony Chen, disagreed that the process is broken. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department director said rising cases and hospitalizations require the county to move back and tighten restrictions on gatherings and businesses.
“There’s no way we can vaccinate our way out of this,” Chen told The News Tribune on Wednesday. “There is an impact on our community, and we have to head it off now.”
Chen said he wants more vaccine doses, but he isn’t asking for more than the allotted amount from Inslee.
“The reality is everyone could use more vaccine,” Chen said. “If I demand more, that means someone else gets less.”
Pierce County has been lagging behind in immunization rates, triggering Dammeier’s frustration.
The state Department of Health’s COVID dashboard on Thursday showed the statewide rate of those initiating vaccination at 34.13 percent, with 22.25 percent fully vaccinated.
Pierce County’s rate was 27.66 percent initiating vaccination, and 18.36 percent fully vaccinated.
King County was at 38.33 percent initiating vaccination, and 23.17 percent fully vaccinated.
Pierce County had been under-ordering COVID-19 vaccine doses due to a “technical glitch,” the state told The News Tribune last week.
Chen said the data is being over-scrutinized.
In smaller counties, one vaccination means more than in a county with a higher population, he said. He also said King County has more people who qualify for the first vaccination tiers, like those in nursing home facilities and health care employees, so a higher immunization rate in King County is not surprising.
“They automatically assumed we are doing something wrong, but no, we are doing just fine. The denominator is just different,” Chen said.
Since the week of March 29, the county has received more than it’s expected allocated doses. During that time frame, Inslee’s letter outlined an additional 20,460 vaccine doses.
Inslee’s letter said many factors are used to determinine dose allocations, such as ensuring providers serving the highest risk populations get vaccines, inventory on hand and population of the eligible groups.
Inslee said Pierce County has received about 97 percent of its expected COVID-19 vaccine doses based on proportional share by population.
“This translates to a total shortage of 7,401 doses across the full 18 weeks of vaccination since the first doses arrived in Washington,” the letter said.
As of April 11, Pierce County has been allocated 438,373 COVID-19 vaccine doses, 437,433 of which have been delivered.
The letter said 93.6 percent delivered have been administered. There are 27,876 doses “on their shelves” that have not been used, Inslee’s letter said.
Dammeier said those doses are already earmarked.
“The doses in Pierce County right now are already spoken for. In fact, we are getting them into arms way faster than the state average,” his statement said. “We need more shots now, or we will fall even further behind.”
Chen said there are no vaccines on shelves. Many vaccines slated as second doses were used as first doses during a shortage this past winter. Now, some of 27,876 shots intended as initial shots are planned to be second doses, Chen said.
He said he isn’t concerned about the national and state pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution affecting Pierce County because the county’s allocation was not large.
Lakewood has thrown its support behind Dammeier, saying in a letter to Inslee on Wednesday that an additional 15,000 doses per week are needed.
The letter said a high percentage of Lakewood residents are economically disadvantaged or are people of color who are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Even if we receive our proportionate share of vaccine, our residents are at a disproportionate risk of illness and negative economic impact,” Lakewood’s Mayor Don Anderson said in the letter. “An under allocation is unconscionable.”
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