Latino Residents Get Vaccine Questions Answered in Town Hall Meeting

By Brian Carlton

March 7, 2021

Del. Elizabeth Guzman and Dr. Danny Avula answered questions for more than an hour in the bi-lingual town hall meeting Saturday.

WOODBRIDGE-Latino residents raised several questions about Virginia’s vaccine distribution Saturday. But most of all, they simply wanted to know when they’ll be able to sign up to get the shot. Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, took questions during a virtual town hall meeting with Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Woodbridge), offering a timeline of sorts. 

Latinos make up 16.9% of Virginia’s COVID-19 caseload. The community accounts for 18.4% of cases serious enough to be hospitalized and 6.8% of virus-related deaths. With that being said, the concern for some residents is that only 6-7% of Virginia’s Latino residents have been vaccinated. Sending questions over Facebook Live, residents like Richmond radio host Oscar Contreras wanted to know why mass vaccination events haven’t been set up for the community. 

“Latinos are getting hospitalized at a higher rate, but they only account for 6.8% of deaths,” Avula said. “Latinos in Virginia are a much younger population and age is actually the biggest risk factor for death from COVID. [That] was why the first phase of the vaccine was focused on our nursing homes and those 65 and older.”  

Avula added that as the state wraps up Phase 1A and moves on, more Latinos will become eligible, so we’ll see that 6-7% number climb. He expects that to happen in the next few weeks.

How Do Appointments Work? 

Most of the other questions centered around how sign-up works. Do I get a number? Can I choose the vaccine I want? But beyond that, people asked about undocumented residents and if they were allowed to get the vaccine. Avula said yes, adding that residency status, immigration status or citizenship status didn’t mean anything when it came to getting the vaccine. 

Undocumented residents will need to bring some form of ID, just to verify they’re the same person who qualified for the appointment. And if they go to a pharmacy, they may be asked for an insurance ID as well. 

“[Pharmacies] can charge an administration fee,” Avula said. “They won’t charge the patient, but they can charge your insurance. That’s why they’ll ask for insurance ID.” 

However, if a resident, undocumented or otherwise, doesn’t have insurance, that’s ok. They’ll still be allowed to get vaccinated. 

Overall, Avula said, the federal partnership with pharmacies is pretty much its own thing. The Virginia Health Department doesn’t really have any say in that. However, Virginia pharmacies did agree to follow the state’s structure. 

That means they begin with Phase 1A residents and so on. The focus on Phase 1A residents will be extended next week for pharmacies, Avula said, as teachers will be added to their list. If you are a Virginia teacher and haven’t been vaccinated yet, starting Monday you can apply on the CVS or Walgreens website

Can I Choose My Vaccine? 

Now that we have multiple options, including a single shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, people asked if they can choose which one they get. The answer is yes and no. When you’re registered in the state system, you’ll get a call about the next available vaccination event. At that point, Avula said, the person on the line will say what specific vaccine is being used. You can choose not to go and wait in line for the next one that comes around. 

“It is absolutely your choice whether you want to go to a Johnson & Johnson event or a Moderna or a Pfizer event,” Avula said. “You won’t lose your place in line, but you’ll have to wait until the next available.” 

Finally, Avula added that the state would not be numbering people as they sign up. Several residents asked about that, indicating it would be easier for them to if there was a number saying “you are X in line.”  

“The reason we’ve chosen not to do that is because the number you are in line doesn’t truly approximate when you’ll be able to get vaccinated,” Avula said. “Let’s say you’re a 22-year-old healthy, young male and you signed up very early for spot number 12. Being number 12 in line doesn’t actually tell you when you’ll be able to get vaccinated. Because you are a healthy individual in phase 2, you likely won’t get an opportunity until late April or early May.”

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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