An Arlington County Vaccination Pod nurse administers a band-aid after a patient receives a COVID-19 vaccine.  Contributed photo. Arlington County Holds Vaccination Events
An Arlington County Vaccination Pod nurse administers a band-aid after a patient receives a COVID-19 vaccine. Contributed photo.

As the rest of the state struggles to administer vaccine doses, how did Arlington County distribute nearly all of its supply?

ARLINGTON – Virginia’s been struggling for weeks to administer vaccine doses. Out of the 1.38 million doses the Commonwealth received, officials only injected 1.1 million. That’s roughly 80%. Meanwhile, Arlington County is setting the standard at 97%.

How did they do it? With other areas struggling, how did Arlington Public Health succeed on all levels? Local officials say it’s been a team effort.

Cara O’Donnell, acting public information officer with Arlington’s Public Health Division, said she’s proud of the team of staff and volunteers who worked to make it happen.

“We have made a commitment to our residents and our employees to get as many doses into arms as we can each week and to never run the risk of wasting vaccine,” O’Donnell said. “Arlington County is currently receiving 2,750 first-dose vaccines a week, and each of those has a corresponding arm for it to go into.”

And while the county’s goal remains high, factors beyond the health officials’ control could play a part in the administration. Those circumstances include weather related-closures and other emergent situations.

“However, our goal remains the same – and that is to vaccinate as many Arlingtonians as possible each week,” O’Donnell said.

High Interest Fuels Effort

Arlington Public Health put their vaccination efforts into high gear when a study revealed that 92% of the county’s population showed interested in getting the vaccine. O’Donnell noted that the county had one of the highest percentages of vaccine interest in the nation.

“As a result, we have a commitment to our residents and to the essential workers here in Arlington to not only provide as many vaccines as we can with our relatively short supply, but also to ensure that we do not waste vaccine,” O’Donnell said.

Even the 3% not injected can be accounted for. O’Donnell and her team intentionally hold back that amount, just in case the next week’s shipment gets delayed. That way they don’t have to stop vaccinating people.

Currently, the county is in Phase 1B of their vaccine rollout. That means they’re vaccinating residents age 75 and over, as well as some of the priority essential worker groups in 1A and 1B. That includes healthcare workers, law enforcement, firefighters, hazmat workers, corrections officers and homeless shelter workers. It also includes childcare professionals, as well as K-12 teachers and staff.

“Our staff is working around the clock to get appointment schedules filled, and we hope to be able to add additional priority groups in the coming weeks,” O’Donnell said.

RELATED: CVS Joins Virginia’s Vaccine Effort

Arlington Holds Events

Arlington County, like many areas throughout the commonwealth and country, host vaccination events. Those who register for a vaccine in Arlington receive instructions on where to go when a dose becomes available to them.

In the process of receiving their vaccine, chances are they’ll see Dallas Smith, Arlington County Vaccination Pod site director.

He and other staff members and volunteers recently took part in an informative video about the county’s vaccination process.

He explained that when an individual enters the site, they check in with registration personnel. Then, they go to a specific area to receive their vaccine.

“We observe them 15 minutes or 30 minutes just to make sure they’re good to go. We send them on their way to be protected from COVID-19,” Smith said. “And then of course we wait for them for their second dose.”

Smith estimated that between 50% to 75% of the Arlington-based staff dedicated to administering COVID-19 vaccines were volunteers.

“[They] give up their time. They take a break from their real jobs just to be part of this effort because they know this is what’s best for their community. And they are amazing. They give their all. They’re wonderful to work with,” Smith said. “And we are so, so grateful for them.”

O’Donnell also championed the staff members and volunteers for their dedication and efforts.

“The dedication of our team is really unparalleled. Each member has one singular goal – to help Arlingtonians receive the vaccine and to distribute those vaccines as efficiently as possible. It’s not an easy process,” O’Donnell said. “I’d especially like to call out the work of our incredible volunteers, who give up their evenings and weekends with their families to be a part of the effort, just because they believe the cause is so important.”

Vaccinations Continue

O’Donnell offered advice to other localities struggling with their own versions of the vaccination rollout.

“Every locality is facing some of the same challenges with short supply and incredible demand for the vaccine, as well as variations in the different priority groups,” O’Donnell said. “We just ask for the public’s patience and cooperation. We’re working diligently to ensure we get vaccines to everyone who wants one.”

Smith also addressed the vaccination supply issue in the video, but expressed hope for the days ahead.

“So I know this frustrating thing is going on across the country and even in Arlington. But I promise, once it gets here, you’ll have a really great experience,” Smith said. “And you get to help end the pandemic just by getting a vaccine.”

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