PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center emergency room physician Raymond Lee receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccines administered at the center, performed by Michelle Finucane of PeaceHealth Employee Health, at the medical center Dec. 16, 2020.

Clark County is one of the lowest-ranked counties when it comes to vaccine distribution, recent data provided by the county health department shows, though local lawmakers and U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler have been pressing the issue with state officials following the release of data showing the discrepancy.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Clark County Public Health published a social media post detailing the discrepancies in the county, which showed that through 11 weeks Clark had a vaccine distribution rate that was 14th of 15 counties in a sample of ones with the highest, median and lowest populations in the state.

Through that time period, Clark County, which is the fifth-most populous county in the state, had doses for about 9.4 percent of its population, according to Public Health data. The next highest-population county, Spokane County, had doses for 14.6 percent of its population. King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties all had above 11-percent population distribution.

“This allocation data comparison reinforces what we have suspected: Clark County is receiving less vaccine per capita than other counties,” Clark County health officer and Public Health Director Alan Melnick said in the post. “This disparity is impacting our ability to get Clark County residents vaccinated and is hindering our efforts to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine in our community.”

Following the revelation that Clark County was shorted vaccine doses, Herrera Beutler sounded off, questioning the head of the Washington State Department of Health directly as to why her constituents are lagging behind.

During a Congressional hearing Herrera Beutler was able to question Washington State Health Secretary Umair Shah on the discrepancy of Southwest Washington’s lack of distribution equity. Alongside Clark County’s lagging in distribution rates, she noted that Lewis County was also being short-changed on vaccinations, saying it was the worst of the state’s 39 counties for distribution, yet had the highest proportion of elderly residents who are a vulnerable population to the disease.

“Honestly, this is unacceptable,” Herrera Beutler remarked. She commented that talk about how to convince individuals to take the vaccine was moot when there were eligible people in the first group of the phased-in vaccinations who were unable to even receive their first dose.

Herrera Beutler said that the refrain that the lack of vaccines was due to a supply issue didn’t appear to be correct with the revelation that both Lewis and Clark counties had poor distribution rates.

Shah responded by saying the discrepancy in distribution was due to issues in combining a number of data points in order to distribute the vaccine. He said that when taking all the data the department uses when working on its distribution, “it is absolutely imperfect when it comes to jurisdictions,” adding the department was now going back to address counties with the distribution gap.

Shah also noted that the state had more of the Pfizer vaccine than providers in areas with lesser distribution had the storage capability for. 

Shah said the department has reached out to counties with lesser vaccination rates, including Lewis. He noted that overall the state has ramped up its ability to distribute what vaccines it does receive, with recent rates of distribution around 90 percent. 

“What we need to do is continue to do a better job of working with the local health jurisdictions,” Shah acknowledged, noting prior to his appointment as state health secretary he had worked in local public health jurisdictions for 17 years.

“Right now we’ve got a lot of these moving pieces that need to be addressed as we work with our local partners,” Shah said.

Southwest Washington lawmakers also had their chance to address Shah on Saturday, following submission of a letter from the legislators asking for answers about why the region was shorted vaccines.

Both Shah and Acting Secretary for Prevention and Community Health Michele Roberts were scheduled to be in attendance for the Feb. 27 meeting. In a news release announcing that a meeting was set, state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, said he appreciated the quick response from state officials. 

The meeting came after a letter signed by lawmakers representing the state’s 17th, 18th and 49th Legislative Districts, both Democrat and Republican. 

“To be clear, this is not an administration issue. Clark County has demonstrated complete competence in distributing the doses they have received. Additionally, County officials overseeing vaccination administration have the infrastructure and capacity in place to increase the number of doses and administer them in a timely and efficient manner,” the letter read.

Lawmakers involved in the meeting sought to make Clark County a higher priority on the state vaccine allocation distribution list, and to catch up with vaccine allocations that the county currently lags behind in, according to the release.

"Clark County residents have not been treated fairly when it comes to vaccine allocations," Vick said in the release announcing the meeting. "I'm grateful to the other legislators who joined with me in this important effort. We will continue to work together to see that residents in our county receive their fair share of vaccine allocations from the state."

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