Hampton Roads leaders call on state to expedite vaccination process

Posted at 3:05 PM, Jan 22, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. - Members of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission wrote a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam Thursday calling on him to help expedite the vaccine rollout.

Some parts of Hampton Roads moved into Phase 1B of vaccination on Friday. Others, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach, will on Monday, but that's behind several other parts of the state.

In their letter, HRPDC worried it could take over a year for Hampton Roads to get vaccinated at the current pace. "We can all agree that this is not acceptable," the letter says.

HRPDC is made up of leaders from 17 localities in the Hampton Roads area. "We decided we had to write a letter and raise this issue directly with the governor because while we've been waiting, we can't any longer. We've got to get this expedited," said Norfolk City Council member Andria McClellan, the group's chair, in an interview with News 3.

The group say local governments can step in right now and help with many of the vaccination duties themselves, including actually putting shots in arms.

"We want to do more. We want to take more ownership and control over this, because it is apparent the local public health districts are under-resourced," McClellan said.

The group wants Northam to help move things along. In addition, emergency legislation in the General Assembly would make it easier for people to become vaccinators. "Maybe we got out of the blocks a little slowly, but this is really more of a marathon than a sprint," McClellan said. "We have time to make up for things, but this is the time to make up for those things."

Earlier this week, Dr. Danny Avula, who is overseeing the vaccine plan for VDH, said it is possible for local governments to become vaccinators. "It is possible in the sense if the city were to become an approved vaccinator site and hire their own vaccination staff and have the oversight," he said.

In addition, HRPDC is calling on the governor to make sure free testing events don't vanish as the focus shifts towards vaccinations. They also want to make sure things are done in an equitable way, and people from lower-income communities aren't left behind.

"Listen, this is a matter of life or death. This is the biggest issue facing our cities, our counties, our country," McClellan said.

Gov. Northam's office didn't respond to a request for comment Friday. His staff has said vaccine supply remains lower than demand.

Vaccines will be distributed geographically based on population, they said. More mass vaccination events should be happening in Hampton Roads over the next few weeks.