State only gives the districts 1/4 of vaccine doses they requested.
RICHMOND – If you signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine in Richmond or Henrico County, it might take a while to actually get the shot. On Monday, local health officials explained they didn’t get the vaccine amount requested.
“Our vaccine supply is 6,400 between Richmond and Henrico,” Amy Popovich said. “That’s about one-forth of the vaccine that we requested and about one-forth of our capacity.”
Popovich, a nurse manager for both health districts, took to Zoom on Monday to explain how the shortage will be handled.
“We have a lot of demand. Unfortunately, our demand way exceeds the amount of supply that we have,” Popovich said. “We have over 60,000 people who filled out interest forms on our website, 40,000 people who are 65 and over.”
Popovich, a 10-year employee with the departments, normally oversees the essential functions of public health. Currently, she leads the area’s COVID vaccine plan. She said seniors will get first priority for the vaccine.
“Our intent is to use half of it for seniors, 40% for essential workers and 10% for our congregate populations,” Popovich said.
The largest amount of vaccine goes to those over the age of 65. That’s a deliberate part of the groups’ risk assessment factors.
“The median age of hospitalizations in Richmond is 61, in Henrico, 67,” Popovich said. “The median age of deaths, however, in Richmond is 77 and Henrico is 81.”
Distributing the Doses in Richmond
Currently, Richmond has a 7.2% positive COVID-19 test rate. Henrico is slightly higher at 11%. Before the shortage hit, the two districts distributed several thousand doses.
“[We’ve given] 56,000 distributed in our area, which includes our heath departments and our partners and our health systems,” Popovich said. “We, as a health department, have distributed and given over 11,500 vaccines.”
Even with that number of vaccinations, both Richmond and Henrico are still in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine rollout.
“We will continue to vaccinate anyone for the months to come,” Popovich said. “Also CVS and Walgreens are still vaccinating long-term care and assisted living facilities.”
Popovich noted that some vaccine distributors recently opened up to Phase 1B recipients in the trio of priority groups. Those include police, fire and hazmat workers, those working in K-12 schools or childcare settings and people in specific congregate care populations, such as those living and working in homeless shelters and those living and working in correctional facilities. Those 65 and older also fall under Phase 1B.
“We are having to prioritize those, even within the 65 population, as we’re looking to, again, ensure the highest burden of disease,” Popovich said. “So those who are oldest, as we know as we look at those who have highest rates of hospitalizations and death counts both locally but also nationally.”
She also addressed the disparity between minority groups, which contract COVID at higher rates. Those in Latin-X and Black communities have a higher probability of contracting the virus. That’s due in part, Popovich noted, to having high-risk essential occupations.
While the health departments created partnerships with multiple health providers throughout the area, Popovich noted they currently only utilize a few of those within the network. That’s because the vaccine demand far outweighs the supply – but when the supply increases, the partnerships are there.
“We anticipate that our infrastructure for dispensing and administering the vaccine is about 25,000 for Richmond and Henrico and our partners and about 40,000 for the region,” Popovich said. “So the vaccine supply is really currently what’s limiting us.”
The problem is that Virginia doesn’t have the supply to distribute. Up until last week, the Virginia Department of Health was able to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to everybody who wanted one. Then that dynamic changed. In a press conference, Dr. Danny Avula said for at least the next month, VDH is only anticipating shipments of about 105,000 doses per week.
Vaccine doses will be allocated geographically based on an area’s percentage of the total population. That means a county of 90,000 people, or 1% of Virginia’s population, would receive 1% of the total vaccine doses each week. That represents 1,050 doses per week for 90,000 people.
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Hope on the Horizon for Richmond
Even with the lack of vaccine supply, Popovich encouraged the public.
“The pandemic has caused so much anxiety and grief and we know that the vaccine cannot come soon enough. And we feel the same way,” Popovich said. “The health district, we understand the weight of responsibility of stewarding this vaccine well. We want to do our best to stay transparent and do the best we can by our communities.”
As community members await their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, Popovich expressed that their time will also come.
“It’s not a race against each other, but it’s a race against COVID and we’re in this together,” Popovich said.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]