Health officials consider changes to Virginia’s vaccine distribution strategy amid concerns over equity

Health officials consider changes to Virginia’s vaccine distribution strategy amid concerns over equity
Nurses wait in numbered stations to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. (Source: Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Fairfax County is ranked as one of the wealthiest communities in Virginia. It’s also one of the healthiest.

As of 2020, Fairfax led the state in measures including the length of life, access to exercise opportunities and low rates of poor health indicators such as smoking and adult obesity, according to annual rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. From 2015 to 2019, the county’s median household income was $124,831 (nationally, it’s around $68,703, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

Currently, Fairfax County is also leading Virginia in vaccine distribution. In late January, health officials shifted the state’s strategy, routing doses through local health districts based on their percentage of the state’s population. As Virginia’s largest locality with more than 1.1 million residents, that left Fairfax with the largest share.

Even before then, the Fairfax County Health Department had requested — and received — more than eight times as many shots as other local health districts, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. From Dec. 22 to Jan. 23, Fairfax received a total of 74,625 doses. Over the same time period, the Richmond-Henrico Health District received a total of 19,550 doses for both localities, which have a combined population of nearly 560,000.

As Virginia continues to struggle with limited weekly vaccine allocations and a slower-than-expected rollout, the state’s population-based distribution strategy has begun to raise questions from residents and lawmakers in smaller areas with worse health outcomes or a greater proportion of vulnerable workers.

That includes Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, who secured an additional 2,000 doses for her constituents from VDH.

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