Virginians urged to ‘be patient’ during COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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Posted at 11:09 AM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 11:55:34-05

RICHMOND, Va. --Nearly half of all Virginians are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, but officials are imploring residents to be patient.

“That’s a major logistical effort and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Gov. Northam warned during his COVID-19 press conference on Thursday.

The governor said he followed federal guidance when moving individuals 65 years old and up from Phase 1C to 1B.

People under 65 years old with a comorbid condition were also moved up the list.

About 16 percent of Virginians are older than 65, according to data from the U.S. Census.

That number increases to one-in-four residents in the Roanoke and Southwest regions.

Ron Boyd serves as president of the Board of Directors for the Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging (VAAAA).

Many of Boyd’s staff and volunteers have an increased chance of getting the coronavirus.

“They want to get [the vaccine] because they are at risk and don’t want to expose the seniors that they’re working with,” Boyd said.

Programs like Meals on Wheels didn’t stop during the pandemic. Some who continued to transport meals to seniors are also part of the older population.

“They are the most at risk and it’s an aging workforce. A lot of those 65 and older are working or volunteering. It’s just critical,” Boyd explained.

VAAAA has fielded numerous calls and questions from their clients ever since news of a vaccine was announced in December. When many seniors were already isolated before the pandemic, Boyd said there’s a craving for a return to normalcy.

“Our switchboards are just lit up all the time. Basically, we are having to say, ‘Shelter in place. Just be patient,’ which is not what they want to hear,” Boyd said.

The Virginia Department of Health created this questionnaire that should help provide some answers when it’s your turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some areas, like Metro Richmond, continue to vaccinate individuals in Phase 1A.

In addition to seniors, Phase 1B includes essential workers like police, fire, transit, grocery employees and teachers.

Most people who fit in Phase 1A or 1B will receive their dose through their employer.

For everyone else, they will have to wait.

Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s COVID-19 vaccination coordinator, said additional details about mass vaccination events could come as soon as next week.

"This week and future weeks you’ll see more vaccines going to private providers and pharmacies," Avula said.

Mass vaccination centers

However, Avula said mass vaccination centers around the state will be needed in order to get to the governor's goal of 50,000 vaccinations per day.

"We're right now mapping out places across the Commonwealth that are already doing this. Fairfax was able to get 4,000 individuals vaccinated in a day at their government center and they're doing about 1,000 doses a day at some of their different sites," Avula said. "Virginia Beach Convention Center did almost 1,000 doses a day in one day this past week. We did 800 here at Arthur Ashe. And so we are quickly getting to scale, but we need to get to the staffing model that allows that consistent delivery of doses day in day out and gets us to our 50,000 doses a day."

As a result, the doctor said the centers, which would be open six to seven days a week, will be initially partnered with health departments, health systems, and the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps.

"But eventually our goal is to get this staffed by the National Guard and by contracted vaccinators who will be able to provide this service in large scale," Avula said.

Avula said those centers would eventually be run by contractors or the National Guard.

Northam said the goal is that at the end of each week all of Virginia's shipment of the vaccine will have been used.

"We're modifying our plan as we move forward to be able to accept the doses that are sent to us and to be able to put those, give them to individuals across Virginia as expeditiously and safely as we can," Northam said.

But as the vaccine rollout continues, the cases of COVID continue to remain high compared with a few months ago and Northam was asked about imposing further restrictions.

Northam said he has already put some stringent measures in place, but added that all options are on the table and will be used if needed.