Failure to deliver vaccine is latest failure by state officials to control COVID

Jan 5, 2021

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic early in 2020, Washington state leaders have said their strategy is to contain the spread of the coronavirus until a vaccine was available, at which point social and economic restrictions would be lifted. Now that the vaccine is available, the failure of state leadership to deliver vaccines to people is the latest example of how that strategy has failed, leaving the public to pay the price of government ineffectiveness.

In mid-December, Governor Inslee expressed frustration that Washington state would not be receiving as many COVID vaccine doses as he expected, tweeting, “this is disruptive and frustrating.” He added, “Our state remains committed to getting all doses we are allocated out to healthcare providers and into the arms of Washingtonians. While we push for answers, that commitment will not change.”

Two weeks later, Washington is struggling to deliver the vaccine doses the state did receive. As of January 3, only 29 percent of doses on hand have been administered. Washington ranks 37th in the nation in the percentage of vaccines given. By way of comparison, South Dakota officials have delivered more than 70 percent of the doses they were given.

Why Washington leaders are so slow is unclear. The Seattle Times noted, “Tracking where vaccine administration has lagged is difficult. The health department has repeatedly declined to share with The Seattle Times a list of destinations where vaccine is being delivered, citing security and other concerns.”

The failure of state leaders to take effective steps to fight the spread of the coronavirus fits a year-long pattern. In May, Washington lagged behind other West Coast states in testing, with the number of tests actually declining while other states were rapidly increasing testing.

Recently, the state Department of Health failed badly in its contact-tracing efforts. Department of Health officials set a goal of reaching 90 percent of people who test positive within 24 hours. When the number of COVID cases surged in early November, the state’s contact tracing effort collapsed completely, reaching only six percent of people who tested positive during the previous day.

Comparing the number of cases to the state’s contact tracing effort shows a disturbing reality. When effective contact tracing was most important – during the surge in cases – it was least effective.

Other metrics have simply been ignored by state leaders. The Department of Health promised to track the state’s ability to “immediately respond to outbreaks” for populations at higher risk. Despite being set up last June, the state’s dashboard still says this measurement is “coming soon.”

The failure of the state to implement programs to contain the spread of the virus leaves state leaders with only heavy-handed alternatives like economic lockdowns. The position of the Inslee Administration since the first outbreak has been that personal freedom, family income and businesses need to be restricted to control the virus. The implicit agreement was that state government would take steps to control the virus and compensate for the cost of the restrictions.

The failure to effectively inoculate people against COVID is the most recent example of the failure of that agreement. The public shoulders the costs, economically, emotionally and in terms of lost personal freedom, while state leaders fail to deliver on their side of the bargain.