Every day I receive heartbreaking emails and phone calls from citizens who are enraged or scared about their inability to be vaccinated against COVID-19 due to lack of sufficient vaccine allotment to Island County and appointments being changed or rescheduled by our providers. These people reach out to me and my colleagues to find out what we are doing to resolve this untenable situation.
As was reported in this newspaper, the Island County Council of Governments, which includes the county commissioners, mayors of Langley, Coupeville and Oak Harbor, and representatives from the port districts, met Feb. 4 with a representative of Gov. Jay Inslee to express our extreme dissatisfaction with the state’s inadequate allocation of vaccine to Island County as well as the state’s decision to place Island County in the same region with other counties that have not been as successful as we’ve been in controlling cases.
We insisted on this meeting because as a result of these two decisions by the state, our population — which is 30 percent people over age 65 — has received vaccines at a lesser rate than metropolitan counties with younger citizens; and we were expected to remain in “Phase 1” with the other counties in our region, which does not allow our restaurants the same reopening options as restaurants in King and Pierce counties have, even though their case rates are much higher than ours.
Gov. Inslee has not responded to our complaints about vaccine allocation; he has let us know through his representative that “at this point in time the state does not plan to separate counties from any of the existing eight regions.”
So this is the situation: We have the largest 1B population in the state per capita — more 65-plus citizens, all of whom are now eligible for the shots— but we receive less vaccine, which makes our situation even more frustrating.
Our vaccine providers, the largest three currently being WhidbeyHealth, Camano Fire, and Island Drug, can only distribute as much vaccine as they receive from the state. This has resulted in many thousands of our citizens being repeatedly disappointed as their appointments have been canceled or rescheduled.
I know that our providers feel the same rage as you and your elected officials that they cannot honor the vaccine appointments that citizens have made. The situation is made even worse because the providers and the county do not know until the last minute how much vaccine will be sent to us in any given week — the state does not give us more than a couple of days or sometimes even a couple of hours head’s up before they send us vaccine. In fact, providers only really know how many doses they will get when they receive the tracking number from the state telling them how many doses have been shipped. Then, the providers have to figure out how to get that information to people who are waiting.
Consequently, the vaccination availability has been in spurts, a couple of hundred shots in one location one day, a hundred someplace else another day, and none of these are on an advertised schedule that citizens and providers can plan around.
Because the state is working directly with the providers, the county doesn’t have an option or say to move vaccine allocation around to make distribution more equitable or dependable.
All I can do right now is continue to express my anger to the governor, and let you know that I share your frustration, both as your elected commissioner and as an individual over age 65 with a pulmonary condition. My appointment for my first shot kept getting changed too. My best advice is to check the provider websites every day to see if an opportunity has opened up for you to sign up quickly.
We all know that this is a situation that will ease. Vaccines will become available; we will all be able to get our shots. As vaccine allocation becomes more dependable, people will be able to trust that when they make an appointment the provider will be able give them the shot they signed up for, during their assigned appointment time.
In the meantime, please continue to take precautions. Wear your masks, wash your hands and socially distance from others. Island County had 32 new cases last week, and one new hospitalization. The week before we had 59 new cases and one new hospitalization. Our citizens continue to get sick.
Until everyone is vaccinated, we must remain vigilant. And patient.
Oh, and you might think about writing the governor.
• Melanie Bacon is an Island County commissioner.