King County to spend $7 million on COVID-19 vaccination sites, mobile vans

King County plans to set up two high-volume COVID-19 vaccination sites as soon as Feb. 1 to increase the access and pace of administrations.

Executive Dow Constantine announced Friday his request to the council to spend $7 million on the vaccination sites and also mobile vaccine vans. He said they are targeting sites in South King County, which has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. He also said the county will initially foot the bill.

"We are not waiting for all of the usual negotiations and contracts but we expect to be reimbursed by the state and federal governments if we are to continue a robust public health response," Constantine said. 

"While we’re hopeful today for federal funding and support, here at local government we can’t wait," said King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci. 

Vaccine administrations at the county, state and national level have lagged far behind the need. While Operation Warp Speed quickly brought vaccines, the rollout has been slow. Local governments blame a lack of federal funding to support operations.

"Our numbers, last I’ve seen, are about 2,000 a day," Councilmember Rod Dembowski said of King County’s vaccine administration. "With our goal of 1.25 million vaccines, that would take - at that rate - take over 600 days to get that done and obviously we need to speed that up."

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In addition to spending county money on mobile vans and vaccination sites, which Constantine said will look a lot like the county’s testing sites, he is also calling on the areas large employers and pharmacies to help speed up administration as the state looks to move past Phase 1a. 

What the county cannot control, though, is how many vaccines it gets in the first place. The federal government determines distribution to the states, which then allocates throughout the state. 

"I’m very concerned that we keep pushing the national government and pushing the pharmaceutical industry to be able to provide more of what we need here locally," Constantine said.

Gov. Jay Inslee appeared to share that concern in a letter sent to the federal government, calling on Health and Human Services to stop holding back half of the available vaccines for a later date. 

"The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable. We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately," the letter reads, signed by Inslee and eight other governors.

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The Trump administration has so far opted to hold back the vaccines and send them out when people are ready for a second dose. On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team vowed to immediately push out all available vaccines, relying on robust production for a supply of second doses instead of saving what is on hand. 

Getting vaccines to states quicker does not necessarily translate to local governments being able to administer quicker without infrastructure in place. As of this week, the state reported administering just 24% of delivered doses but promised it was picking up the pace.

King County Public Health Director Patty Hayes said Friday the county expects it’ll take several more weeks to get through the first priority group, which consists of health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities.