Top health officials answer your questions!
The Department of Health is leading with equity to keep Washington healthy
It’s hard to believe we’re already 10 weeks into our COVID-19 vaccination operation. While we have milestones to celebrate like administering over one million vaccine doses, we also have challenges to overcome. This is the first pandemic many of us have ever experienced, and we are in uncharted territory — especially with vaccinations. We know there are a lot of questions out there, especially about vaccine distribution.
Last week, some of our state’s top public health experts teamed up to answer some of those questions during a special Q&A session. The live event went beyond the media headlines to provide a deeper look into this unprecedented vaccine rollout.
The team included DOH’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Umair A. Shah, and COVID-19 Vaccine Director SheAnne Allen. Each have pivotal roles in managing Washington’s vaccine rollout. They were joined by Dr. Christopher Chen, who serves as Medical Director-Medicaid at the Washington state Health Care Authority (HCA). Dr. Chen and his agency help patients access the vaccine. Louis Shackelford moderated the special event. Louis serves as the External Relations Program Manager for COVID-19 Prevention Network and HIV Vaccine Trials Network at Fred Hutch.
Before the webinar, the team collected questions from across the state — they received over 800 in a week. During the event, they answered questions about vaccine phases, distribution, eligibility and equity. They also looked at some of the successes and challenges we’ve faced, so far.
In a perfect world, there aren’t speed bumps on the path to vaccinating everyone. But the reality is that vaccine demand is extremely high, and supply is especially limited. As a result, vaccine distribution decisions were very hard to make. Washington state decided to place equity front and center.
The pandemic hit communities of color and low-income communities the hardest, in both urban and rural settings. This increases the existing inequalities that remain in our state, and society. Dr. Shah explains that vaccines are an opportunity to address these inequalities.
DOH is working closely with local health jurisdictions, community-based organizations and tribal communities. We are compiling and analyzing data to locate underserved communities — and inform them about vaccine rollout plans. We are also partnering with trusted messengers to communicate with our underserved communities.
During the webinar, Dr. Chen also explained how the state is removing financial barriers by making the vaccine free for everyone. Medicaid benefits also help people get to their appointments and access interpreter services. The HCA is also working to translate vaccine information and save appointments for phone callers who may not have internet access.
One of the event’s biggest takeaways was the optimism of the participants. We are nearing the end of this pandemic and we have the right things in place to deliver even more vaccinations once the supply catches up. More importantly, we have amazing people who stand ready and devoted to finish this operation — while leading with equity and empathy.
DOH will organize more events with medical experts like this in the near future.
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Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.
See what vaccine phase we are in now at CovidVaccineWA.org. To find out if it’s your turn, visit FindYourPhaseWA.org and our timeline of vaccine phases. Check the vaccine locator map for a list of places where you can get the vaccine, which is provided at no cost.
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.