PORTSMOUTH, Va. – As the race to vaccinate picks up steam in Virginia, some cities are getting a much-needed boost.
In Portsmouth, the state is now stepping in, taking over the Sportsplex and turning it into a mass vaccination site.
The goal is to get more shots in arms by reaching communities hit hardest by COVID-19.
Dr. Janice Underwood leads the Health Equity Task Force for the state. As the chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer to Gov. Ralph Northam, she said they realized they needed to take a different approach in vaccine efforts.
“We know there’s a disparate impact on communities of color, and this is really a solution,” Underwood said. “Until we get everyone vaccinated, these centers will stay in place and be here for the community.”
Since the rollout of the vaccines, Portsmouth has fallen behind other cities in the number of shots administered.
Mayor Shannon Glover said a lack of access to resources and a confusing registration process - before the creation of a statewide central system - added to the slow rate of vaccination.
“We were maybe perhaps 19,000 or 20,000 down that were already in the system that still needed to be contacted to come in for their dose,” he said. “We think the health department here in Portsmouth has done a phenomenal job and we supported those efforts, but there was a sense that we could perhaps even do more if we had the right resources.”
With state-hired contractors, the city will now more than double its efforts. It will go from giving out a couple hundred shots a day to 1,000 shots a day, five days a week.
Portsmouth District Health Director Dr. Lauren James said at the start of the rollout, the city was administering an average of about 200-300 vaccines, two to three days a week. By March, it was delivering 500 shots in arms three days a week.
Monday was a test run of the vaccine operation in the Sportsplex.
Kelly Bradley from Newport News has been hired to help sign people in who have appointments. She hopes the community vaccination center (CVC) will ease vaccine hesitancy.
“I would hope that when they come in and see the diversity of people getting it, that they would be more likely to get the vaccine and not be so nervous about it,” Bradley said. “We’re here to ease the anxiety and explain things if anybody has any questions or anything like that, just to let them know everything is going to be okay and it’s a good thing to do.”
Dr. Underwood said the community vaccination center is just one way the administration is helping to provide more access to the vaccine.
Over the next few weeks, she said more mobile COVID-19 clinics will roll out to neighborhoods in need.
“Currently, we are working with local faith communities and transportation companies,” said Underwood. “We know that we need to reach everyone, and we’re not going to leave anyone behind.”
The first shots in arms will start at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. People with appointments will receive either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Portsmouth is one of three cities the state is helping with vaccination efforts. Danville and Petersburg are the other two.