PRINCE GEORGE, Va. -- Virginia State University (VSU) and the Crater and Chesterfield Health Districts have launched a new partnership to use mobile health units to help get the COVID-19 vaccines into underserved communities.
The three already have already partnered on the community vaccination clinic (CVC) at VSU's Multi-Purpose Center, but officials said this partnership would help reach those who cannot get to the CVC easily (or may not want to travel the necessary distance). The mobile units (revamped RVs equipped with fridges, examination tables, and other medical equipment) belong to VSU's recently formed Public Health Institute (VSUPHI).
"This is what the mobile unit is going to help us with because everyone's not going to travel to a clinic," said Crater Health District Chief Operations Officer Jay Baxter. "We want to make sure that we have a full plan and a robust schedule for these mobile clinics."
Wednesday saw the first deployment of one of the units, vaccinating around 300 people at an industrial park in Prince George. Two more deployments will occur in communities in Hopewell and Petersburg.
Officials said they are picking the locations using census tract data. A team of contractors then heads out into those communities ahead of the units arrival to let people know it is coming and sign them up for the vaccine.
"They are boots on the ground approach. And so, they are going to be providing education, as well…They are the ones with the connection to these areas and these facilities. And so they are basically bridging the gap with them and us," said Baxter. "They're going ahead of time to let them know they were coming…so we can kind of get approximate number of how many are in a hotel, or how many are in this facility or in this area and this mobile park and things like that."
Under the current plan, the vaccines will be administered by members of the Virginia National Guard vaccination teams, but they are establishing other vaccination teams in case the Guard is called away. They add the units will use the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines so there is no need to set-up a second appointment.
Baxter said after this week's test run, they are planning more events in Petersburg, Hopewell, Dinwiddie County, and Prince George County next week. He said they are working to solidify a partnership with Hampton University to use their mobile vaccination unit to visit sites in Surry and Sussex Counties in May.
Palm says after the vaccination efforts are finished, the units will continue to be used by VSUPHI in supporting the health of the surrounding community.
"As we start repopulating campus back next fall we want to be very intentional and having our students, our faculty being a part of those particular types of events and initiatives going out to the community," said VSU's Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Donald Palm III. "Because there's so much that we can offer from Virginia State University."
When Will Crater Health Move into Phase 1C
During Wednesday's launch, Baxter also talked about the district's move into Phase 1C of the vaccination effort. Currently, Crater is the only Richmond-area district not yet in Phase 1C.
Baxter said they are still working there way through the 1B essential workers, but said the district is projecting to make an announcement on Thursday or Friday about a decision to move into 1C. He said the likely date they are looking at is Monday, April 12.
The entire state will move into Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout on Sunday, April 18.