HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Calls to the Virginia Department of Health hotline (877-ASK-VDH3) are typically redirected.
The state hotline and local health departments have received a flurry of phone calls since the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in December. The sign-up process has caused confusion and mounting frustration.
Dr. Danny Avula, who heads Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination program, said since the start of the rollout, they’ve been using a registration platform from the federal government.
“The recognition in rolling that out over the first month was, that system is not supporting the needs of the community,” he said. “It’s confusing. It’s not consistent. There’s not a lot of ability to control where people can get access to vaccines.”
Now, the state is working on a new, efficient, and faster way to get help. VDH is streamlining the vaccine registration process by launching a centralized statewide call center.
“I think what has been extraordinary frustrating to the public is not having a clear pathway in whatever locality they live in to get vaccinated,” Dr. Avula said. “To manage the frustrations of our communities, we need more phone capacity because I think a lot of people have called health departments and not been able to get through. What we’re doing is having a more standardized way to schedule appointments.”
Dr. Avula said a centralized call center should be up and running in a couple of weeks.
About 1,000 people will be answering phones to take the burden off local health departments and the public.
“The folks who are answering those phone lines will be able to provide more direct connection and information and eventually even register patients for upcoming appointments,” he said.
Soon, the state will also be rolling out a new online platform linking all health departments and making it easier for people to preregister for the vaccine.
4️⃣ We are streamlining registration by creating a central, statewide system. We expect to launch this platform soon—and I am directing @VDHgov to speed up their work.— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) January 28, 2021
We are also working to increase the size of our #COVID19 call center.
“People can access that themselves, or if they don’t have Internet access, or don’t have an email address, they can call the centralized hotline number the operator there will help walk them through the process,” said Dr. Avula.
Dr. Avula remains hopeful, especially now that the state is getting a 16% increase of allotted doses and is shifting the way it uses them. Some hospitals and private providers are now taking second doses that were being set aside and using them as first ones.
“As a state, our responsibility is to ensure there is equitable access to the vaccine,” he said. “What I see moving forward is really feeding the mass vaccination site channels. There will be some that continues to go to health systems…and helping the health departments work through that 1b population, but that outlay looks different in every community and depends on the partners and the capacity in those communities.”