With nearly half a million vaccine doses reaching Virginia this month, not every district receives the same amount.
MARTINSVILLE-The vaccine went out to 18 hospitals this week. As we reported Tuesday, 72,000 healthcare workers received COVID-19 vaccinations across Virginia. But some areas, like the West Piedmont Health District, are still waiting.
“In West Piedmont, we are expecting our vaccines around Dec. 21, somewhere in that week,” said Nancy Bell, the district’s population health manager. “We are expecting 100 doses of Moderna.”
Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one officially approved right now, but delivery had to be prioritized. Bell said the district put in orders for both Pfizer and Moderna’s versions, but couldn’t get any of this week’s batch. They didn’t rank high enough.
West Piedmont covers Franklin, Henry and Patrick counties, as well as the City of Martinsville.
While they’re not at crisis levels, all four localities have positive test rates above the state average. According to the Virginia Health Department’s data from Nov. 28 to Dec. 11, 20.8% of COVID-19 tests in Patrick County were positive during that time. Franklin County came in at 18.35%, Henry County at 16.1% and Martinsville at 15.4%.
By comparison, 16 localities had a rate above 20%. All but two of those areas were in Southwest Virginia. Russell County had the highest, coming in at 31.2%. The City of Galax was right behind, at 28.3%.
West Piedmont learns later today if they’ll get Moderna doses next week. FDA officials are meeting this morning to decide if they’ll give Moderna’s version emergency approval.
How Do You Decide?
Virginia officials decide how to allocate COVID-19 vaccine based on a number of factors. Tammie Smith, public relations coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health, said current conditions play a part. Also it depends on how many doses are available at a given time. She also said VDH is working on a registration system, to help speed up the process.
“The registration system will allow the facility to identify the anticipated need for vaccine [doses] and an estimate of the population they serve by risk factor,” Smith said. “This data will be used to prioritize vaccine shipments in accordance with CDC recommendations.”
Even when the vaccine gets delivered, it’s not something you can just let sit in storage. The reason only 18 hospitals received the vaccine is because those facilities have the right kind of equipment.
“You can’t play with it. It has to be very cold. It has a short shelf life,” Bell said. “Our plan is to deploy it as soon as we get it.”
Pfizer’s version needs to be stored in sub-zero temperatures. Even then, there’s a clock, as Bell alluded to. It can remain stable at -70°C for up to 10 days unopened. The Moderna vaccine remains stable at regular refrigeration temperatures, between 2° to 8°C, for upwards of 30 days. Not every hospital has a sub-zero storage unit, which is why the 18 were chosen. Those 18 now serve as distribution centers.
For example, Sentera Healthcare is based out of Norfolk, but it has hospitals across Virginia. When Sentera received a shipment this week, that went to other Sentera hospitals in Virginia by courier.
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Going Through the Steps
No matter how quickly healthcare providers receive the vaccine, they can’t immediately inject the public. Each person tasked with injecting the vaccine must go through training, which includes everything from CRP to infection control practices.
Those administering the vials must also document vaccines given and properly store, handle and prepare the vaccines.
“The thing we need to do is account for the vaccine and who all’s getting it and so forth,” Bell said. “We have to work with our partners to see, you know, do we need to vaccinate this urgent care or are you going to do it?”
During the area’s first round, those receiving the vaccine will not head to their primary care provider.
“The vaccine logistics are so particular that in this first round, at least, we’re going to have people coming to our health departments for their vaccinations,” Bell said. “I imagine at some point we’ll do a mass vaccination with our partners, but none of that is planned. We’re just sort of putting our toe in the water and seeing how this works.”
Injecting healthcare workers first, the community committed to providing wellness acts as a role model.
“The way I’m looking at this is this 100 doses is a very good thing because it’s our practice run,” Bell said. “I’m sure our people will be very adept, but for those who are saying, ‘The vaccine will kill me’ and ‘it’s this’ and ‘it’s that,’ we can say, ‘Look, we’re doing it to ourselves first. We’re going to show you this is safe.’”
When Will We Get More Vaccine?
The actual amount of vaccine received in Virginia is a moving target. It depends on when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured, the VDH stated in a Dec. 4 press release. VDH is coordinating future prioritization based on federal guidance.
Crawford noted that the majority of long-term care facilities in Virginia will receive vaccinations from CVS and Walgreens’ teams onsite through a federal CDC-pharmacy-LTCF partnership. Health care systems and public health will ensure access to vaccination for all healthcare professionals and long-term care facility residents equitably across the entire state.
In the West Piedmont district, examples of public COVID-19 testing sites include MedExpress Urgent Care, located at 105 W Commonwealth Blvd in Martinsville, Ridgeway Family Health, located at 4944 Greensboro Rd in Ridgeway and Walgreens, located at 3590 Virginia Ave in Collinsville. Before venturing to a testing site, call ahead to make an appointment.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]