The Pullman Public Schools superintendent is disappointed in Washington officials for halting Whitman County’s plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to school teachers and staff.
Superintendent Bob Maxwell wrote in an email to the Daily News that this situation is “a good example of the need to look at refining the vaccine distribution groups and timelines.”
According to an email from Whitman County Public Health Director Chris Skidmore, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office got word of the county’s plans to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to school employees last week.
Inslee’s office warned Skidmore’s staff that if this plan was carried out, Whitman County would jeopardize vaccine allocations from the state.
“We then walked back that plan and began reallocating doses to providers in neighboring counties,” Skidmore wrote. “Those doses are being utilized in those counties to help get through their 1A and 1B1 populations.”
Those populations include health care workers, residents 65 years of age and older and residents 50 years of age and older in a multigenerational household.
Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee’s office, wrote to the Daily News that the office has to consider the needs of the rest of Washington when allocating vaccine distributions.
“We need to look at the whole state when vaccine supply is as limited as it is now,” he wrote. “There are many others who currently qualify in every part of the state have not received it yet, and it is not fair to them for individuals to be moved ahead of them based on local decision making that is not consistent with what everyone else in the state is doing.”
Faulk wrote that the statewide prioritization plan is necessary to get doses to all older people and those in long-term care throughout the state.
Faulk acknowledged that not everyone may agree with this plan, “but it is the way to get as many people who are currently prioritized — the people who are statistically most likely to die or suffer greater complications from the virus — vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Maxwell wrote that Whitman County should not have to wait for the rest of the state’s counties to catch up in regard to vaccinating those eligible for the vaccine.
“In addition, taking vaccines away from a county and shipping them to other counties does not seem equitable, especially if each county received a proportionate share to being with,” Maxwell wrote. “I would also add that if the state wants schools to open in-person and school staff are essential workers, shouldn’t they be vaccinated now?”
The school district is prepared to shift its middle school students to a hybrid schedule starting Feb. 22 with an eye on doing the same for high school students March 1.
Feb. 22 would also mark a transition to five days a week of in-person instruction for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Whitman County has found itself in this situation largely because it has been so efficient in getting eligible people vaccinated.
Skidmore said the county is outpacing the rest of the state in this regard thanks to “extensive partnerships and collaborations that were developed early on in the pandemic and continue today.”
“We are able to identify our strengths and utilize the wide array of skillsets available to put us in the best position to succeed,” he wrote. “Everyone coming together has made this possible.”
Pullman Regional Hospital, Whitman Hospital, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Palouse Medical have been offering COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.