Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Virginia Moves Ahead with Vaccines
Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

While some areas moved into vaccination Phase 1B on Monday, most of the state still hasn’t vaccinated all healthcare workers.

CHICKAHOMINY – Parts of Virginia are picking up the pace when it comes to vaccination. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced Friday that 11 health districts will progress into Phase 1b this week. On Monday, those words turned into work.

Those districts shifting into Phase 1b include Alexandria, Arlington, Cumberland Plateau, Fairfax, Lenowisco, Lord Fairfax, Loudoun, Mount Rogers, New River, Prince William and Roanoke City and Alleghany.

While many localities remain focused on 1a vaccinations – a group including healthcare providers and those in long-term care facilities – the groups included in 1b make up a much longer list. They include frontline essential workers, people age 75 and older and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters or migrant labor camps. Essential workers consist of grocery store workers, police officers, firefighters, public transit workers, post office employees, teachers and educational support staff.

“This is an important step that will provide increased flexibility to health districts across the Commonwealth,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s newly appointed COVID Vaccine Coordinator. “The governor has made it very clear that the state should not be holding anyone back — if health districts are ready and able to begin Phase 1b vaccinations, they must be able to do so.”

The VDH stated that it could take months to vaccinate Virginians who fall under Phase 1b and that the ability to schedule appointments depends on the supply of vaccine available. The federal government currently allocates approximately 110,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Virginia per week.

“We are excited to begin vaccinating more people as we continue to work to put this pandemic behind us,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver. “The number of calls to our VDH hotline and to our local health departments asking about vaccines is evidence that people want this protection. Our goal is to get shots into arms as quickly as possible. Vaccines are our best hope to get back to normal.”

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Continuing Vaccination Phase 1a

But not every area is ready to go to 1b. Some are still vaccinating healthcare workers. Brookie Crawford, Public Information Officer for the Central Region of the VDH, noted that her region will remain in Phase 1a for now.

Larry Hill, the VDH’s Eastern Region PIO, also said his region would stay in Phase 1a for a bit longer.

“Our [reason] is pretty simple,” Hill said. “We’re not [ready for] 1b yet.”

Hill noted that the eastern region did not yet have a timeline for moving into Phase 1b.

“We’re getting close, but we’re not there yet,” Hill said.

Hill expressed that when they planned to move forward into Phase 1b, officials would inform the public.

As the vaccines distribute throughout the commonwealth, Crawford urged Virginians to take precautions against the virus. 

“In the meantime, it is important to remain vigilant in COVID-19 prevention practices,” Crawford said. “Continue taking steps to protect yourself and others, such as covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often and staying at least six feet away from others.”

The Chickahominy Health District

Caitlin Hodge, director of the Chickahominy Health District, helped distribute vaccines throughout the area for Phase 1a recipients. The Chickahominy district covers Hanover, Goochland, New Kent and Charles City.

“In Chickahominy, we’re partnering with the central region,” Hodge said.

Through the partnership, Hodge and her team redistributed COVID-19 vaccines. That move ensured that staff in urgent care centers received the doses they needed.

“They’re doing so much sick patient care and they’re testing for COVID,” Hodge said. “They’re trying to test for other infectious illnesses.”

There are an estimated 7,000 residents falling within the 1a category in Chickahominy. Hodge noted that the health district dispersed over 1,000 vaccines to the urgent care facilities.

Hodge noted that the 7,000-count for 1a did not include staff members in large hospital systems.

“If they’re part of a large hospital system, that hospital system was given vaccine [doses] to give to their employees,” Hodge said. “And so we’re taking care of anyone who doesn’t fall under that large hospital system that’s part of 1a.”

Last week, the Chickahominy district started hosting COVID-19 vaccine events. During their first week, approximately 600 people received the vaccine.

“We’re going to try to keep increasing the number of vaccines we can do each week,” Hodge said. “That was a really good start for us, locally. We’re going to keep growing that so that we can get more.”

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Finishing Healthcare Vaccination

Those in the Chickahominy Health District who fall within the 1a category currently depend on a partnership between the local health distract and their employers.

Hodge noted that the health district reached out to employers in several different fields that fell within 1a standards. Those facilities included primary care offices, dental offices and fire and EMS stations.

“We asked them to send us a line listing, once they have approval from their employees, of all their employees who qualify. So that those folks could be uploaded into the database that sends out the clinic invites,” Hodge said. “So it’s a lot faster for us to work with the organization leader than with each individual so that we can get that full listing of who qualifies more quickly into our database. And then they get emails from the CDC to set up an account now that they’ve been identified as 1a, for example. And then they can pick a clinic that works for them.”

Virginians that qualify for vaccination must present proof that they fall within either Phase 1a or 1b. In Chickahominy, since the district seeks out those in 1a through their employers, all an individual needs to bring with them to the vaccination appointment is a valid form of identification.

“They’re already in the database and we’re just verifying that they are who they say they are,” Hodge said. “Right now, it’s like a driver’s license, for example. We haven’t been asking for anything else at our Chickahominy clinics, besides to verify their identity that’s already uploaded in the database.”

1b on the horizon

The Chickahominy Health District didn’t move erratically into the next phase. First, Hodge expressed a commitment to the premiere priority group.

“In terms of 1b, we’re trying to decide on that right now. We want to make sure we give enough opportunities to folks in 1a to attend our vaccination events without them already being filled with folks who fall under 1b because 1b is such a large group of people,” Hodge said. “We don’t have an exact date yet. But we know that there’s that encouragement to move into 1b as soon as we’re ready. I think that we just need to talk this week about trying to figure out what that date is. I don’t have a date yet, though.”

Hodge expressed that her office will inform the community when more details about 1b dates become available.

“We’re trying. We really want to do a great job. We’re so excited to have the vaccine. So we really want to get others excited and help roll it out and help get as many people vaccinated who want to be vaccinated, who qualify,” Hodge said. “And so we’re excited to keep moving on to the next phases. As soon as we’re ready, we’ll try to let folks know.”

For Chickahominy residents in 1a who have not received word from their employer about the COVID-19 vaccine, Hodge encouraged contacting chdvaccine@vdh.virginia.gov. There, they can learn more about qualifications and set up an appointment.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com