Fairfax Goes Back on the Waiting List. Vaccine Appointments Delayed.

By Amie Knowles

January 27, 2021

As the state gets fewer doses, places like Fairfax have to cancel appointments and suspend programs.

FAIRFAX – On Monday, email inboxes across Northern Virginia filled with cancellations. Area teachers and school staff, as well as others in Phase 1B were told they would have to wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The local hospital just didn’t have enough supplies to go around.

Inova Fairfax Hospital later announced the cancellation of all first dose vaccinations from Jan. 26 onward.

The sudden halt came as a result of recent vaccine distribution changes.

“Last week, in response to a national shortage of COVID-19 vaccine, the Virginia Department of Health made a modification to their vaccine distribution methods,” the hospital released on their webpage. “As a result, Inova’s allocation of vaccine has been severely diminished, causing us to make the difficult decision to prioritize the available doses.”

The hospital did not respond to repeated calls on Tuesday.

Health Department at the Helm

With the COVID-19 vaccine headed straight for the Fairfax County Health Department, staff members like Tina Dale, senior communications specialist, geared up for an influx of inquiries.

It was a bad time to run into a supply problem. Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam opened up 1B to include specific 1C members. The updated group included those 65 and over and those 16 to 64 with certain underlying health conditions. Following the announcement, the local health department experienced a huge interest surge. They went from just over 40,000 registrants the week before to 156,000 last week.

“Clearly, this is an operation that’s going to take weeks and months to adequately get these people in through our system and to get them vaccinated,” Dale said.

The recent change in distribution practices drastically impacted the area’s operations.

“Initially, I think the Virginia Department of Health was pushing out vaccine [doses] directly to Inova. So they received the doses they would request. I don’t know if they would necessarily get everything that they were requesting, but Inova was able to place an order and then our health department was able to place an order,” Dale said. “What changed was now, Virginia Department of Health is only distributing vaccine to the health departments and then the health departments work with the county partners to distribute vaccine down a little farther.”

Dale noted that the local health department is working with Inova. The partnership ensures that the people who had their appointments cancelled will have them rescheduled.

What’s the Problem?

The issue isn’t unique to Fairfax. Across the state, health departments and hospitals are canceling appointments. The problem stems from two situations. First, despite doing months of promotions, encouraging people to get the vaccine, the state wasn’t prepared for the response. In areas where they expected thousands of people to show up, hundreds of thousands poured in. The demand greatly outweighed the supply.

In a case like this, increased demand normally means you simply put in orders for more supply. But the federal vaccine stockpile Virginia and other states were promised turned out not to exist. In late 2020, federal officials said some vaccine was being held back, to use for booster shots. When Alex Azar resigned as Health and Human Services Secretary in the last days of the Trump administration, he admitted that was a lie.

That led to the second situation. Last week, Virginia’s vaccine czar Dr. Danny Avula announced a change. Vaccine doses would now 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.

And for cities and counties that had been expecting larger supplies, that meant they had to start canceling appointments. They simply didn’t have enough vaccine to meet the demand.

RELATED: Virginia Restructures Where Vaccine Gets Distributed

The Second Dose

“It isn’t just a one and done deal,” Dale said. “You’re not just coming in and getting one vaccine.”

Those receiving the Pfizer vaccine return for their second dose three weeks after the first. For those receiving the Moderna vaccine, their second shot occurs around the fourth week.

Inova posted on their webpage that those who already received the first dose from the hospital will still receive their second dose as scheduled.

That means that not all Fairfax County Public Schools employees, as well as charter school and private school employees, will remain unvaccinated. Fewer than 11,000 school personnel already received the first dose and currently await the second.

For the others, it’s a waiting game.

“We are working with Inova to ensure that the folks that have appointments, that we’re going to be able to work with them so that folks who have the cancelled appointments would still get in at some capacity. It might be later than they intended, but that we’re going to be working with Inova to ensure that all school staff do get vaccinated,” Dale said. “And again, the rollout is going to be slower, but we are working with Inova to ensure that folks can get vaccinated.”

The Dogwood reached out to FCPS multiple times on Tuesday, but did not receive a response.

The Supply Issue Continues

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only week holding foreseeable issues with vaccine supply.

“VDH said that they were going to be getting 105,000 doses and pushing it out to the entire state,” Dale said. “Clearly that really knocks down the amount of doses that our region would typically be getting.”

The Fairfax County Health Department makes requests for specific dose amounts. But they don’t always receive the number they asked for.

“I can only imagine now that when there’s only 105,000 doses for the entire state, the requests going in are going to be much smaller. We’re anticipating this is going to be for the next few weeks,” Dale said. “We’re just asking that our folks in Fairfax County, that they just remain patient. We are trying to work through this list as quickly as possible. Every dose that we get in, we’re tying to turn it around and get it into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”

While waiting isn’t easy, the vaccine situation currently requires patience.

“Every week is a new week,” Dale said. “We just have to go with the information that we get for that week.”

Doing Our Part

Until Virginia reaches herd immunity through the COVID-19 vaccine, Dale encouraged individuals to remain vigilant in reducing the spread.

“While we are so looking forward to ensuring our community is fully vaccinated, there are still steps that we can take every day to help slow the spread of illness. And of course, we want every resident to always be mindful and to wear their mask properly, covering both their nose and mouth while they’re out with other people that are not in their household. [And] just to remind people that social distancing does work, especially when masked,” Dale said. “To get rid of those germs, any opportunity, especially before eating, just wash your hands thoroughly. If you’re not feeling well, please stay home. Staying home is one to the best ways to ensure that you’re not out in the community inadvertently spreading germs.”

Dale also asked that the public comply with contact tracers performing investigations.

“Those are the steps that we all need to take to ensure that we slow down the spread of illness in Fairfax County, and of course across the entire United States,” Dale said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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