Vaccine distribution has been challenging, but Kitsap has fared well

The vaccine effort is underway in Kitsap County, and that comes with numerous challenges; but officials have made the best of a tough situation thus far.

Officials didn’t have the latest numbers when they convened for their Tuesday meeting of the Kitsap Board of Health, but as of 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2,002 vaccines had been administered in the county. That number has climbed since and is likely much closer to 3,000.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, officials said Kitsap has been able to administer 40 percent of the doses it has received, which is the fifth highest in Washington behind some of the state’s smallest counties. For comparison, the much more populous King County had administered 17,000 vaccines as of the same date, though that number, too, is also likely higher now.

“I think that as you take a look at these numbers, this is a struggle for everyone,” said Liz Davis, public health nurse at the Kitsap Public Health District, “but all things considered I think in Kitsap County we’re doing a great job.”

Plenty of obstacles lie ahead in the goal to get the approximately 9,500 Kitsap residents in Phase 1A vaccinated, as well as the long-term goal of getting all 271,000 residents of the county immunized.

As of Jan. 2, Kitsap had 12 health care organizations enrolled to receive the vaccine and five have administered them so far. Another 10 providers have their application pending and a further 17 have initiated the application process.

While getting as many providers as possible ready to receive the vaccine has been a priority, scheduling and planning has been difficult as vaccine allocation have become abrupt and inconsistent. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also have different storage requirements and the number of individuals qualified to adminster the vaccine is also limited — health care providers need to have emergency medical items on hand and have staff trained to monitor patients for 15 to 30 minutes in case of a reaction.

But KPHD administrator Keith Grellner believes that Kitsap has fared better than many other counties due to the work of its employees. He noted the work of Davis and Jessica Guidry, the program manager for public health emergency preparedness and response, who have remained in constant contact with vaccine providers to ensure that unused doses are redirected to another provider that can use them.

Officials expressed frustration at what seemed to be poor planning and communication for distribution on the part of the higher levels of government.

County Commissioner Rob Gelder noted that the burden seemed to be falling on local jurisdictions in light of the fact that relatively few local health providers were ready to adminster the vaccine when it arrived in the state.

“If that was the plan earlier on, you’d think recruitment and enrollment should have happened months ago,” Gelder said.

Grellner said local jurisdictions simply do not have much discretion at the moment.

“The state is running our vaccine program right now,” Grellner said, “and I have to say, as problematic as we see that currently at the local level, the lack of federal direction and the lack of a federal rollout plan has created this issue of every state doing it a little differently.”

Kitsap County has mostly been on a downward trend in cases since hitting its peak around Dec. 5. It remains to be seen if there has been any kind of post-holiday spike, but the most recent complete data has the county averaging about 30 new cases per day.

Vaccine distribution is moving ahead slowly, but surely, and officials once again asked residents to remain vigilant of their habits and continue to wear masks, watch their distance and frequently wash their hands.

“It’s a truly challenging time, and this makes it all the more important to come together as a community and support one another through our actions,” said Dr. Gib Morrow, Kitsap County’s health officer.