Washington ranks 37th in nation for percentage of vaccine doses used, vows to do better

In one week, Washington state dropped from 26th in the country to 37th in percent of vaccine doses used, according to CDC data, despite increasing the amount of vaccinations it administered.

Q13 News asked state health secretary Dr. Umair Shah about falling to the bottom third of states when it comes to administering doses. He responded by saying he doesn’t like to do comparisons across the country. 

"Every community, every state has a different host of challenges. I would say we’re making incredible progress," Shah answered.

Washington is making progress, improving from 36% of doses used last week to 43% this week. But more states are surging ahead. In comparing with states that are doing better, we can identify where Washington may have gone wrong. 

North Dakota is the best state in the nation at administering doses, having used up 74% to date. Keys to its success include expanding phases to older adults before the federal government suggested it and maintaining a state vaccine warehouse to coordinate distribution to rural areas. Long term care facilities also heavily relied on local pharmacies over the federal program. 

West Virginia, the second-best state at 68% administered, has a similar approach and in some ways goes further. The entire state opted out of the federal vaccination program for long term care facilities, instead of distributing doses to local pharmacies, which were able to start vaccinating facilities a week before CVS and Walgreens were ready. The state also added older adults to its first priority group, where Washington strictly stuck to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.

Many of the states most successful at administering doses are also less populated. To compare to a state with a similar population, we turn to Colorado, the 10th best state at 54%. Colorado established an early rule with vaccine providers to use up all doses within 72 hours or risk having the doses taken away. They also moved ahead in phases before previous phases were finished and starting working on state vaccine systems last summer. 

Unlike the states mentioned that are succeeding in quickly administering doses, Washington waited until days after the federal government recommended vaccinating everyone over the age of 64 before moving on to the next phase on Monday. 

The governor did announce some changes, though, that should help Washington fill the gap. On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered providers to use all previously-received doses by this Sunday, and said providers should use 95% of future allocations the same week they receive it. 

"We’re not there yet and that’s the honest truth about where we need to be and that’s why we continue to work through all those challenges that are there," Shah said. 

It turns out, some vaccine providers were holding on to doses to make sure second doses could be administered weeks later, instead of relying on the federal and state governments to provide second doses when it was time. The state’s assistant health secretary Michele Roberts said the confusion has recently been cleared up.

This week, the state expects to receive more than 235,000 doses from the federal allocation. More than 93,000 of that is meant for first doses, while more than 142,000 is earmarked for second doses.