Virginians ages 65+ have mostly gotten COVID shots
Younger people with health risks and essential jobs are now getting appointments
With more than 1.6 million Virginians having received COVID-19 vaccinations, the number of people age 65 and older seeking COVID-19 shots is beginning to slow down, Dr. Danny Avula said Friday. That has left more appointments open for younger people with health issues or who work in essential jobs.
Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said he is confident Virginia will be able to open up eligibility to all adult residents by May 1, the deadline proposed by President Joe Biden this week, and possibly up to two weeks earlier. Unlike in January, when Gov. Ralph Northam opened eligibility to everyone in group 1b, which led to widespread frustration amid lower supply and far greater demand, Avula said that greater supply of vaccine doses and increased capacity to administer shots make this round much smoother.
“We’re in a completely different vaccine environment,” Avula said.
He also gave more detail about the state’s large-scale vaccination clinics scheduled next week for Danville, Portsmouth and Petersburg. The localities were chosen for several factors including low vaccination rates, higher risk factors and more per-capita hospitalizations and deaths, Avula said. The clinics will provide thousands of shots a day and will be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Appointments will be still required.
Danville’s clinic will launch at the shuttered JCPenney store on Monday, offering 3,000 appointments a day based on the state’s preregistered lists. Portsmouth’s clinic launches Tuesday and expects to schedule 1,000 appointments a day, and Petersburg’s site opens Wednesday, with 3,000 appointments a day. There will be 13 locations statewide that will eventually open mass clinics.
Avula expects those sites to be open at least two weeks if not longer, but if appointments start to slow down consistently, the state will redeploy resources as needed. Moderna and Pfizer Inc. vaccine doses will be administered at the mass clinics over the next two weeks, as the number of Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine allocation will slow down until the first week of April, as it catches up with production. Avula expects to receive about 100,000 J&J doses per week starting then.
Asked about people “gaming the system” and setting appointments for themselves outside their residential areas — often traveling from higher population centers to rural areas — Avula asked people to think about others who are at higher risk and in more need of the vaccine. A reporter said Facebook groups are notifying each other when new batches of appointments open up, getting their shots ahead of local residents in regions like Southwest Virginia. Avula responded that he “doesn’t love it,” but added he can’t place too much burden on staffers at vaccination sites to determine if someone is eligible for the vaccine.
Overall, he said, the state is moving swiftly in vaccinating people, and according to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention data, Virginia is fourth in the nation for percentage of doses administered. Avula said he expects that every Virginian in group 1b will be able to get access to their first dose by the end of April and even sooner in some parts of the state, allowing people in group 1c and the rest of the population age 16 and up to get their shots by the end of May. He expects up to 700,000 doses allocated per week by May.
Looking ahead, older children may start receiving vaccine doses by the fall and younger children by early 2022, Avula said.
Addressing a report that a Kroger pharmacy in Chesterfield County mistakenly used empty syringes instead of vaccine, Avula said he doesn’t know what happened and had not heard of anything similar occurring elsewhere. He noted that fewer than 10 people were affected before the mistake was discovered, and none were seriously harmed. Vaccinators at the store’s clinic have been retrained, and the Virginia Department of Health is working with the store to address the situation, according to Kroger.