PACIFIC COUNTY — Throughout the country, chaos and confusion reign over a once-in-a-lifetime operation: trying to vaccinate millions of people daily in an all-out sprint to end a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on American life for almost a year and counting.

In Pacific County, public health officials and healthcare providers have joined forces to try and cut through the uncertainty. Rather than adopt a ‘go it alone’ mentality, local stakeholders are coordinating resources and personnel in an effort to promptly administer every dose of vaccine they receive.

When vaccination efforts first got underway in Pacific County last December, once Pfizer’s and later Moderna’s vaccines were authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, the scope of the undertaking was narrow; only high-risk healthcare workers and emergency responders were eligible to receive the vaccine due to a limited initial supply, with around 600 people countywide eligible

But the floodgates opened last month, when Washington state officials opened up the next phase of the state’s vaccine priority list. The move into the current Tier B1 — which allows for all people 65 and older, or 50 and older and living in certain multigenerational households, to be eligible to receive the vaccine — meant that thousands of people throughout older-skewing Pacific County were suddenly eligible to get vaccinated.

While the news that more people were eligible to receive the vaccine was a positive development, it also created logistical hurdles that didn’t exist in the initial vaccination phase.

Ocean Beach Hospital was the first to receive the vaccine, which in the initial phase meant that a large bulk of its doses went toward vaccinating its own health workers in-house, as well as other eligible emergency responders — a relatively small group of people. The newly eligible group of people are spread throughout each of Pacific County’s communities, from Oysterville to Tokeland.

To try and cut down on the confusion, the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department joined forces with other healthcare organizations in the county that have been approved to administer covid-19 vaccines, including OBH, Peninsula Pharmacies and Willapa Harbor Hospital in South Bend, among others.

Together, the group has pledged to pool their weekly vaccine allocations into one collective pot, allowing for mass vaccination clinics to be held when enough doses have been distributed to the county and local providers.

The results, so far, have been encouraging. Two weeks ago, virtually every single first dose of the vaccine in Pacific County was administered at mass clinics, providing a first dose to more than 5% of the over-16 population in the span of just a few days. Those involved in the local vaccine efforts say the only thing holding the county and providers back from administering that many doses on a weekly basis is a lack of consistent supply of doses from the state.

First-dose clinics are set to be held on both ends of the county this week, after providers in the group combined to receive more than 1,000 doses from the state following their most recent weekly request. The mass clinics are staffed by county employees and employees from local healthcare providers. When the county or a provider aren’t the ones running a clinic, the others step up to provide needed additional support.

OBH provided support at a south county clinic two weeks ago, when the county health department and Peninsula Pharmacies combined their doses for the event. The hospital’s contributions included a total of 150 hours of staff work, as well as providing supplies and meals for the team giving the shots, according to Brenda Sharkey, chief nursing officer at OBH and the hospital’s vaccine response leader.

“[The collaboration] has been amazing. Everyone is trying to do the right thing by getting as many community members vaccinated as soon as possible,” Sharkey said, adding that the group meets at least twice a week to coordinate the vaccine response. At OBH, four employees combine to spend about 60 hours a week to help plan events.

To ensure fairness in the process, appointments for the clinics are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, with the group going off of the same waitlists compiled separately for north and south county, rather than providers opting to only offer the doses they receive to their own patient base.

The list is compiled and maintained by the county health department, with employees spending hours on the phone scheduling appointments at the beginning of each week. Along with making the process more equitable, Pacific County Health Director Katie Lindstrom said it helps take the burden off of providers having to keep and maintain their own lists.

“Part of the approach is to take some of the pressure off of providers. The county is kind of getting the brunt of it because we’re maintaining the waitlist, but if we weren’t and everyone had their own waitlist, I imagine that each provider would be getting deluged with phone calls every day,” Lindstrom said.

Jeff Harrell, owner of Peninsula Pharmacies, believes that the collaboration between the county government and local healthcare providers is something not many other areas are doing. Harrell oversees pharmacies located in five other Washington counties, in addition to the pharmacies in Ilwaco, Long Beach, Ocean Park and Raymond.

“None of [the other pharmacies] are working with their counties, they’re working independently with their own patient base,” Harrell said. “This collaborative agreement, I think, is unique. I think it bodes really well for Pacific County and delivers the vaccine as accurately and timely as possible, as well as in a fair manner by working from the same list.”

For Lindstrom, the all-hands-on-deck approach from local hospitals and pharmacies has been a blessing.

“I can’t even tell you — and these are not just empty words — but we are so lucky to have the providers that we have in our county,” Lindstrom said. “They just legitimately want to get it done. And there’s no jockeying for position or anything like that, it’s just truly people who want to get it done.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.