Local health districts prepare for next phase of vaccine rollout

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 6:44 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - While healthcare workers across Virginia are beginning to receive their second dose of a vaccine, local health departments are preparing for the next group of people to roll up their sleeves.

Phase 1b includes seniors over the age of 75 and essential workers outside of health care, including grocery store employees, police officers, firefighters, public transit workers, and people who work in the education sector (both teachers and support staff).

The Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) hopes to start vaccinating individuals in that group come February.

However, after watching some setbacks in other states, health leaders are adjusting their plans to ensure it does not happen in Virginia.

Drone footage out of Daytona Beach, Florida shows thousands of vehicles filled with senior citizens waiting to get those COVID vaccines. However, all across the state local news stations have reported issues with citizens trying to get that vaccine; from busy phones and website crashes from registration to vaccination events filling up in minutes.

“There’s a learning curve for all the states on how to administer these vaccines,” said Cat Long, spokeswoman for the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts.

Health leaders in the metro-Richmond area are monitoring the challenges in other states to prevent those issues from arising here.

“Just know that we’re monitoring these systems closely and we’ve been very responsive to making sure our phone lines are working; we’ve set up email addresses, we’ve hired new folks to make sure that those things are staffed so people can get timely responses,” Long said.

The plan for the RHHD is similar to how COVID testing has operated. Mass vaccinations are something you will likely see based on the success of testing at ‘The Diamond’.

“We were able to do these massive events without any risk of people infecting one another, where it’s not super chaotic and everyone is able to get in and get out,” Long said.

To date, RHHD has distributed 3,070 of the 3,600 doses received.

Before that group of people 75 years and older along with other essential workers can receive the vaccine, the rest of Phase 1a needs to be vaccinated.

“There’s a lot of eagerness right now to get the vaccine,” Long said. “It’s been a long road for a lot of us, and think the vaccine is giving us all a communal sense of hope that we’ll be able to get back to normal soon.”

Long added more detailed information will be released in late January on how this broader vaccination effort will work. Meanwhile, the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts have renewed their focus to complete the vaccinations for Phase 1a.

On Tuesday, RHHD released an online interest form to help all eligible medical providers receive the vaccine quickly.

“We are following CDC and Virginia Department of Health’s guidance to vaccinate healthcare personnel as part of the first priority group because we rely on healthcare to diagnose and care for individuals with COVID-19 and because, by its very nature, their work may place them at greater risk of infection,” says Deputy Director of Richmond and Henrico Health Districts Dr. Melissa Viray. “This includes not just those working in hospitals, but also healthcare workers in the community. We need to make sure those individuals have access to vaccines, and this intake form can help make sure healthcare workers out in the community are able to receive the vaccine as soon as possible.”

According to RHHD, once eligible health care providers complete the form, they will be notified when a COVID-19 vaccine appointment is available.

“They will be enrolled in the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS), the online appointment scheduling tool created by the Centers for Disease Control,” a press release stated.

The Phase 1a group for COVID-19 vaccination includes:

  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • Healthcare personnel who engage directly in the care of or have contact with patients who with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19;
  • Healthcare personnel who interact with patients who are known to be at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection or severe illness from COVID-19 infection (EMS, dialysis, residential care, etc.)
  • Other healthcare employees whose work requires them to spend time in a clinical setting.

More than 14,300 Richmond and Henrico Phase 1a eligible residents have been vaccinated through their employers, pharmacies enrolled in the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care, and Richmond and Henrico Health Districts.

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