Local medical clinics say COVID vaccine rollout is going smoothly in Yakima County, and the next phase of eligibility could begin sooner than expected.

The county is focused on vaccinating people in Phase A1 and A2 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. That phase includes workers in health care settings, first responders and long-term care residents and staff.

The next eligible group could start getting vaccinated soon. State officials said this week that they are working to move up timelines for the next group — people 70 and older and people 50 and over who live in multi-generational households. The federal government also said it was working to expand distribution.

The Yakima Health District, which previously said it would move into Phase B1 in mid- to late February, anticipates “moving into Phase B sooner than originally planned,” spokeswoman Lilián Bravo said Friday. She did not have an estimated time frame yet.

In that upcoming phase, an additional 30,000 households locally are expected to become eligible for the vaccine. With that in mind, Bravo said the district is urging remaining health care workers and first responders “to get their vaccine appointment scheduled soon so they can avoid long wait times.”

Clinic officials are planning to ramp up capacity, but they also say that an unpredictable flow of vaccines into the county each week has hampered efforts.

The county’s largest primary care providers — Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic and Community Health of Central Washington — have received the vaccine and are working closely with the health district to administer first doses. That’s in addition to local hospitals’ and pharmacies’ work.

The local clinic networks have vaccinated most of their staff and are working to vaccinate community health care workers.

Lori Kelley, senior director of quality for Farm Workers Clinic, said the process of vaccinating Phase A individuals provided an opportunity to work out kinks in workflow, improving efficiency for the next phases.

The health district is having weekly meetings with local clinic networks to plan scale-up for the next phase, and is in regular contact with them to ensure prioritized populations have up-to-date information on how to get the vaccine. More information is on the health district website.

Preparations

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic and Community Health of Central Washington officials all said their staff were ready or nearly ready to begin vaccinating the next group of eligible community members.

The clinic networks were creating systems that categorized patients based on eligibility. This will allow automated notifications when they became eligible, in addition to calls from staff to schedule vaccination appointments.

The clinics also expected to have vaccination opportunities for the broader community. Kelley of Farm Workers Clinic said this could be through daily appointments, large weekly events or community collaborations. Social media campaigns would alert people to vaccination eligibility.

As of Wednesday, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services was awaiting approval to receive and administer the vaccinations at its Granger and Sunnyside locations, said CEO Rhonda Hauff. She said she hoped to have this approval before the next phase opened.

At Community Health of Central Washington clinics, staff were prepared to administer as many as 500 vaccinations a day, said Chief Medical Officer Michael Schaffrinna. But that’s dependent on vaccine supply, he noted.

Holdups in planning, administering

Both clinic officials and Bravo noted that vaccine allocations from the state occur once a week, with varying amounts from one week to the next. This has made planning and scheduling of vaccinations “problematic” or “difficult,” they said.

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“It is important for the community to know that all of our health care organizations are pushing to get vaccines into peoples’ arms,” Schaffrinna said.

Kelley of Farm Workers said officials were in daily communication with the state to report how many vaccines they needed and inquire about expected delivery timelines.

“We are going to be dependent of course on the state and how closely they can get the vaccine to us on our schedule,” she said.

In the meantime, the local clinic networks and the health district are ramping up vaccination capacity in anticipation of the large uptick in eligibility for the vaccine in Phase B1.

Bravo said the health district is “actively working on securing locations for additional vaccine location sites.”

The health district recently announced plans for a mass vaccination site, although Bravo did not have new details on those plans.

She said the county will continue to rely on hospitals, clinics and pharmacy partners to administer vaccines, but that there will be a need for additional mobile vaccination sites and increased capacity at existing high-volume COVID-19 testing sites.

But, she noted, that could be complicated since some health care staff are out due to community spread of COVID-19, and “having enough staff to operate a separate vaccine clinic, outside of their normal day to day work, is also challenging to build up sufficient capacity.”

She said one solution the health district is working toward is working with local academic partners to administer the vaccines with oversight by a medical professional.

County vaccinations

Health officials said they are dedicated to vaccinating everyone who is eligible and wants the vaccine.

“We are dedicated to serving our community and won’t rest until all have the opportunity to get vaccinated. But we must follow the state rules designed to protect the most vulnerable in our community,” said Schaffrinna of CHCW.

Kelley of Farm Workers echoed his sentiment.

“We want everyone to get vaccinated who is eligible for the vaccine. This is important for our communities. It’s important for the health of our communities and our families. We don’t want to see anyone suffer, struggle through COVID,” she said. “Vaccinations save lives and vaccinations save communities.”

As of Tuesday, the Yakima Health District reported the county has received 9,600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines and administered 4,666.

These numbers do not include those vaccinated through pharmacies that are part of a federal partnership, meaning “vaccinations are likely higher than reported,” said Bravo.

She said the state Department of Health expects to release a vaccination dashboard in the next week which will provide more information about vaccines given locally.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka