The COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in Washington State

By Ed Mund, NVFC EMS/Rescue Section director at large

Washington State allows paramedics and AEMTs to provide vaccine shots during a declared public health emergency, such as what we are now in with COVID-19. Because this is outside the normal scope of practice for both levels, each county’s EMS system medical program director (MPD) must create written guidelines and approve additional training to certify paramedics and AEMTs to provide vaccinations.

Thurston and Lewis Counties border each other in western Washington. MPDs in both counties modified a vaccination class available for free online from the CDC to conduct the training.

Providence Health & Services operates a hospital and multiple clinics in each county. As they geared up to vaccinate more than 2,000 first-priority healthcare workers in their own system, they reached outside their walls to assist other organizations with first-priority healthcare workers.

EMS 9-1-1 response is fire-based in both counties, augmented by private for-profit and private nonprofit ground and air medical transport services. Certain fire stations were selected by location to be Closed Points of Dispensing (PODs) to best reach first responders. The PODs were opened to include all private partners as well.

In Thurston County, Providence teamed with local public health and Thurston County Medic One, the umbrella organization over all EMS response in the county. Approximately 500 first responders have now received their first dose of vaccine. This represents over half of the eligible responders.

Being mostly rural, Lewis County has an EMS Council with representatives of every 9-1-1 response agency – mostly fire departments – instead of an umbrella EMS organization. A workgroup was created that included the county MPD and a few Council members. Providence, local public health, and the workgroup collaborated to identify first responders and schedule closed PODs. Two fire stations were chosen based on location to be as convenient as possible for responders coming from all over the 2,500-square-mile county. With the first round of shots complete, 122 have received their first dose. This is approximately 40 percent of the county’s EMS responders.

Vaccine providers may not charge for the vaccines already paid for by the federal government, but they can charge a fee to administer the vaccine. In recognition that the majority of the first responders being vaccinated are volunteers, Providence is conducting these closed PODs at no cost whatsoever.

For responders who have declined the vaccine, most have not indicated their reasons. One fire chief noted that those who have declined seem to be quietly dissenting in an environment where they are the minority opinion. A few others who have spoken out cited that the vaccine violates their religious beliefs or that they don’t trust the government.

To learn more about the vaccine rollout in other states, click here.