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Who decides distribution of COVID-19 vaccine?

With news of COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Pierce County, you might want to know when it will be your turn to get it. Widespread vaccination of the general public is still months away. Planning is still in the works. You should look forward to receiving the vaccine by spring. We’ll let you know when the time comes.

Washington State Department of Health decides how many doses go out based on supply available and using its phased distribution plan. We learn how many doses Pierce County will get when they are shipped. Currently, we’re in Phase 1a. 

During Phase 1a, people who work in healthcare settings, medical first responders, and people who are older and living in congregate care will get the vaccine. We expect this phase to last until mid- to late-January, depending on the vaccine supply. In late January when supplies have increased, we may get more at regular intervals.

Local healthcare systems and other approved healthcare providers, such as smaller clinics and pharmacies, will receive the vaccine directly. Vaccine supply, unique storage and handling requirements, approval of more vaccines, and provider enrollment status influence how much vaccine Pierce County gets weekly.

As the local health jurisdiction, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department supports DOH’s vaccine planning and distribution efforts. The Health Department also makes decisions about local administration efforts. DOH decides when we move to the next phase based on vaccine supply and uptake, federal guidance, how the disease is spreading, and other factors.

The Health Department will communicate and work with partners throughout the county on these phased movements, including any operational support necessary to implement those phases and provide access.

We work with many partners

The Health Department works with health systems, ambulatory practices, and pharmacies on their enrollment and vaccine supply for Phase 1a eligible people.

These groups also must enroll in the Immunization Information Systems (IIS), a national vaccine reporting platform used to track immunizations. Healthcare providers must enter data into this system within 24 hours of vaccine administration to ensure timeliness and accuracy.

With our COVID-19 response, our vaccine specialists also work with various emergency management departments. We coordinate with other governing bodies, including Puyallup Tribal Health Authority, Veterans Affairs, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. We help ensure local healthcare providers and pharmacies are ready to administer vaccine.

How will the vaccine roll out?

We will rely on six proven strategies to make sure vaccine is getting to prioritized groups and to you:

  1. Healthcare systems—Just like with any other vaccine, your healthcare provider is your reliable source for COVID-19 vaccine—when it’s your turn to get it. Many people will get their COVID-19 vaccine as a part of their regular visit to their doctor, through a vaccine clinic your healthcare provider may host, or other options at your provider’s office.
  2. Local pharmacy partnerships—Several local pharmacies partner with us to provide vaccine to those eligible in Phase 1. With their many convenient locations in our communities, pharmacies already make it easy and convenient for many people to get vaccinations.
  3. Qualified healthcare partners—Through a train-the-trainer model, Health Department staff will provide technical assistance, coordination, vaccine administration and immunization clinic management training to qualified partners across the county. These partners include healthcare providers who may not be affiliated with a large healthcare system, pharmacists, emergency medical services, and other vaccine providers.
  4. Federal pharmacy for long-term care—CDC and large retail pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, administer this model nationally. The pharmacies send drop teams directly to long-term care facilities across the country to immunize residents and staff. In Pierce County, many eligible facilities signed up to receive the vaccine through this partnership.
  5. Local drop teams—The Health Department administers this effort in parallel to the federal pharmacy program. It supplies immunizations to facilities not enrolled in the federal pharmacy partnership that qualify for Phase 1a. Most eligible facilities in Pierce County are enrolled in the federal partnership, and these teams will work with adult family homes and other facilities to fill any gaps. These teams can also serve other identified smaller facilities/populations in future phases. We are developing these plans and can adjust based on the availability of vaccine and phase.
  6. Direct vaccine administration for gaps in coverage—The Health Department is an enrolled vaccine provider. We will use clinical and non-clinical staff and volunteers, as well as volunteer support from partner agencies, to administer vaccines if we identify any access or distribution gaps. Direct vaccine administration in the community is resource intensive. We’ll use this option to fill in gaps or to kick start vaccination to a priority group as needed. We also train and support others, such as healthcare providers and pharmacies, who are already set up for vaccine clinics.

Later in January, more people who are high risk and members of critical workforce will be eligible. That guidance is still in development. By early spring, it might be your turn. Regardless of when that is, you may have already heard from your healthcare provider that they are getting ready.

Along with our healthcare partners, we will do our very best to keep you posted on when COVID-19 vaccine will be available to you.

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Close Up of Gloved Provider Administering Vaccine to Child's Upper Arm