Access to the COVID-19 vaccine for the elderly, equitable distribution and a call for community partnerships were the themes of the day during a virtual vaccine question-and-answer session yesterday, hosted by Thurston County officials.
The session was the first of its kind, but is likely not to be the last said County Manager Ramiro Chavez. During a 50-minute span, multiple members of the community — many representing local groups and nonprofits — asked county health officials specific questions about vaccine distribution.
A recurring theme involved providing access to appointments for elderly people. Currently, people 65 and older, or people 50 and older living in multi-generational settings, are all eligible for vaccination. Some questions posed to officials expressed concerns about some elderly people’s access to the internet. Most resources for scheduling a vaccination appointment are online.
Schelli Slaughter, director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, said anyone can call Thurston County at 360-867-2610 to find their eligibility and schedule an appointment. A team of people answers calls to that line from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Health also has a hotline at 1-800-525-0127.
Slaughter said that 20 percent of all appointments at county clinics are reserved for people that need special assistance in making appointments. Slaughter noted that even as the county gears up for mass vaccination events, 20 percent of the vaccine supply will be held back for these particular appointments.
County Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek said that as Thurston County receives more supply of the vaccine, they intend to set up mobile clinics that can service assisted living facilities. The county has partnerships in place with the Department of Health, Medic One and others to make it happen, she said.
Other questions concerned equity in the distribution of the vaccine — including assisting people who don’t speak English as a first language.
“Our critical role that we play in our vaccination efforts and Thurston County is to make sure that we are achieving health equity and that we’re prioritizing underserved populations and that we’re filling gaps that traditional health providers can’t,” said Slaughter.
Slaughter said the county needs to fall back on relationships they’ve built with organizations that serve local minority communities to distribute information. She noted that the county has experienced a gap in reaching out to the Spanish-speaking population within the county, and intends to address the gap through partnerships with organizations.
As of today, 12.68 percent of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 6.92 percent have received a second and final dose. As a third vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, rapidly makes its way through the federal authorization process, local officials expressed optimism that a third vaccine will help expedite the process. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single dose, and prevents hospitalization and death at a similar rate as the two vaccines currently on the market.
In the coming week, the Thurston County region is expected to receive 4,780 first doses of vaccine and 2,300 second doses. Those numbers include federal allocations to area pharmacies. Slaughter said there will be a vaccination clinic set up at the Thurston County Fairgrounds on Friday. The clinic is set up as a drive-through and is available by appointment only. Anyone who has yet to schedule an appointment can do so online (https://form.findyourphasewa.org/210118771253954)
Appointment scheduling will be open by the end of the day tomorrow, said Slaughter.
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