As Virginia struggles to boost vaccination rates, state officials face calls for more coordination

As Virginia struggles to boost vaccination rates, state officials face calls for more coordination
NBC12 (Source: NBC12)

The Lord Fairfax Health District vaccinated more than 2,000 people last week at two walk-up clinics in Clarke County. The first, on Monday, was open to anyone 75 and older. The second, on Friday, covered anyone 65 and up — as well as most of the county’s educators.

In the neighboring Blue Ridge Health District, officials are still working to finish immunizing the health care providers prioritized in the first phase of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign.

It’s not that they don’t have plans for the same large-scale clinics. Earlier this month, the Blue Ridge Health District opened a large vaccination site with help from Riverbend Development — a private company in Charlottesville that owns a former Gold’s Gym and Kmart space near a bus stop and the convergence of two main roads. Riverbend, along with a few other private partners, helped the district navigate the city’s permitting process to erect a 10,000-square-foot tent outside the former retail space.

Without the tent, the district would have been left cobbling together a list of potential vaccination sites in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, said Ryan McKay, the director of policy and planning for the district, which provides health services to more than 250,000 people in Albemarle, Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson. But the district hasn’t staged the same sort of walk-up events — in part because it hasn’t had the time or the staff.

“For us, I think that wasn’t going to be the best use of our resources if we’re trying to take on 75 and older and also wrap up 1a,” McKay said. “Because we’re moving so quickly — and sooner than we wanted to, to be honest — we’re dovetailing 1a and 1b. And I think it’s going to be more effective if we can be more surgical, so to speak.”

Across Virginia, there have been major differences in how much help local health departments have received from hospitals and other private partners as well as the degree of coordination. Vaccination in Lord Fairfax, which includes Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Page and Warren counties and the city of Winchester, has been heavily aided by its local hospital system, Valley Health, which immunized its own employees along with unaffiliated providers in the community. District Director Dr. Colin Greene said the system has also stepped up for Phase 1b, organizing large-scale vaccination clinics at Shenandoah University’s athletics center.

“They just started it up last week and it can knock out more than a thousand doses a day,” Greene said. In Blue Ridge, there’s been collaboration with UVA Health, which has volunteered to vaccinate some independent providers and — starting Tuesday — send some of its own employees to work as vaccinators at the health district’s primary site in Charlottesville.


The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.