WhidbeyHealth canceled 12,000 vaccine appointments this past week and suspended appointment scheduling.
Like everywhere else in the nation, the demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, which remains in limited supply, has soared in Island County as new groups of people become eligible to receive it.
Currently, individuals in the 1B group — those who are age 65 and over and those over 50 who live in multigenerational households — are able to receive the vaccines.
According to both county and hospital officials, the amount of vaccines received by each county varies week by week and is unpredictable.
“We’re in the situation where this is entirely supply-chain driven,” said Nic Wildeman, a spokesperson for WhidbeyHealth.
“Unfortunately, it’s a weekly adjustment.”
Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said the county received 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine this past week. Of that total, Wildeman said the hospital system received 1,000.
That, however, was not nearly enough to keep up with the demand from Island County residents, prompting the mass cancellation of appointments until enough vaccines are available to inoculate everyone who has booked an appointment.
“We are promising appointments when we actually have the vaccine in hand,” Wildeman said.
He added that WhidbeyHealth had expected to receive much more inventory, which is why so many appointments were accepted in the first place.
There currently is no waitlist available for people whose appointments were canceled.
It is still uncertain, but appointment scheduling may open up again next week for WhidbeyHealth.
Wildeman emphasized that people should be using the state Department of Health’s PhaseFinder tool to check availability of the elusive shot rather than calling WhidbeyHealth.
Because of the appointment cancellations, he acknowledged that it is possible that some people who have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine might see a delay in getting their second shot.
Higman said the booster shot still provides a secondary level of protection, even if it’s given two to three weeks later than planned.
“There is still a strong efficacy in the second dose of the vaccine,” Higman said.
Wildeman said people waiting for their second dose received guidance via a press release. They were advised to either receive the shot when it becomes available at WhidbeyHealth or seek out an alternate vaccination site.
Over the past six weeks, Island County received a total of 7,625 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Higman.
Not included in that number, Wildeman said, were nearly 2,000 doses the hospital received that were reallocated by the state to Snohomish County to vaccinate frontline health care workers.
“Everybody’s been responding to the state’s request to spread inventory around,” Wildeman said.
“It’s a constantly, rapidly changing dynamic,” he said.
Commercial providers are not immune to the overwhelming demand for vaccinations.
Island Drug, which has pharmacies in Oak Harbor and Clinton, is running into the same allocation shortfalls as the hospital, according to Director of Operations Andy Plumlee.
Instead of canceling appointments, Island Drug chose to “fight through the pain” and has continued to adjust scheduled dates and times, Plumlee said, adding that at least 2,700 appointments had to be rescheduled.
Appointments are booked through March, he said.
Island Drug’s website has a new tool that allows patients to look up the status of their appointments rather than calling staff.
Plumlee said Island Drug’s Clinton location recently received 300 vaccines that were injected into the arms of South Whidbey community members.
Available appointments at that location filled within an hour, he said.