Lewis County residents can now help organize community COVID-19 vaccine clinics staffed by the National Guard — as long as they can find 19 friends or family members also looking for a dose.
“If that’s a city park, if that happens to be an apartment complex, if that’s a school — anywhere you can get 20 people or more that want to get vaccinated,” Lewis County Public Health Director JP Anderson announced Tuesday.
Interested individuals should call the county’s emergency management department at 360-740-1151.
According to Anderson, Lewis County could be the first county in the state to take such an approach, although he said the public health system, in general, is moving in the same direction.
“I think as we move away from mass vaccination drive-throughs to smaller and smaller clinics, we get closer and closer to our general health infrastructure, which is a single appointment with your doctor,” he said.
And the small, targeted events may play a large role in the county’s vaccination efforts in coming weeks, as demand for existing mass vaccination clinics appears to wane. The new, small clinics could be organized multiple times a week and would likely take about an hour a piece. Time and location would be determined by the community.
They’d be staffed by the same unit of the Washington Army National Guard currently running Lewis County’s new walk-through clinic at the Lewis County Mall. That clinic opened this week. Sixteen soldiers are set up to usher residents from the bus stop out front into the old Sears store to get their dose. The former department store has been locked off from the rest of the mall, which is still hosting shoppers.
During Tuesday’s final touches on the clinic, Lewis County Emergency Management Deputy Director Andy Caldwell emphasized the assistance Lewis County is receiving from a multi-county, regional incident management team as well as the National Guard unit, which previously operated vaccination clinics in Eastern Washington.
“If we had to plan it and do the legwork, I don’t know if we could have pulled it off,” Caldwell said.
The new clinics — all aimed at making vaccines as accessible as possible — are good news for Lewis County, where 28.65% of residents have received a shot, compared to the statewide average of 40.89%, as of Wednesday.
But local fears of diminishing demand are being mirrored on the state level, and state health officials said Wednesday that allocations will begin to shift based on community demand.
“In all honesty, I do think there’s a concern about vaccine demand, and we want to make sure that we’re not just about hesitancy and confidence, but we also want to make sure it’s about ease of access,” Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said. “And we want to make sure the experience of getting a vaccine is as easy for people as possible.”
Shah reported that, statewide, more than 5 million vaccines have been administered, and that the state has made significant progress in the speed at which doses are getting into arms. Although Shah pointed to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine returning to the mix, he also noted that allocations of COVID-19 vaccines in general from the federal level are projected to plateau in coming weeks.
A key component to the state’s vaccination efforts, he noted, will be Washingtonians encouraging each other to get the shot, especially as events like Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, graduations and the Fourth of July approach.
“It’s really important to show pride in getting vaccinated,” Shah said.