Medical assistant Shalice Wheeler, left, administers Covid-19 vaccine to physician assistant Matt Ferraro. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group via Getty Images)
Medical assistant Shalice Wheeler, left, administers Covid-19 vaccine to physician assistant Matt Ferraro. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group via Getty Images)

One month later, Fairfax County is still using its own vaccine distribution system, with zero problems.

FAIRFAX-Fairfax County doesn’t have any regrets about opting to use its own vaccine registration system. The state’s most populous jurisdiction has been using its own system to get residents vaccinated for over a month and everything is working just fine.

“It’s going great,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay.

Fairfax County’s reasoning behind using their own system came down to the time and resources they used to create it. Much like the state’s system, Fairfax has a dashboard that residents can use to sign up for vaccinations. Over time, the people of Fairfax became used to the system and the Board didn’t want to cause more confusion by switching.

“I am certainly glad we did what we did,” McKay stated.

McKay didn’t rule out the possibility of transitioning to the state’s system in the future. If it is proven to be more effective and helps cut down on confusion, then Fairfax would be open to the idea. However, in the meantime, McKay believes it is in the best interest of the county to continue with its system.

McKay specifically pointed to issues the state has had with its system. While Fairfax did encounter issues at first, they did not have to wait for the state to step in to try and sort out the problems. Being able to deal with issues internally has been beneficial, according to McKay.

“We’re firing on all cylinders now,” he said. “Our system is working.”

Challenges Fairfax Faced

When rolling out something as critical and extensive as a COVID vaccine registration system, naturally not everything is going to work smoothly right away. Similar to what the state dealt with, Fairfax’s system had a tough time dealing with the amount of traffic on their dashboard.

On January 18, Governor Ralph Northam declared that people 65 and over were eligible to register for the vaccine. Adding another age group to an already heavily populated group of people 75 and older and first responders who were trying to get vaccinated, created an overloaded system in a matter of hours.

Luckily, Fairfax County was able to work through those issues, but the challenges they faced were far from over.

A problem they are continuing to work through is easing the anxiety residents have about when they are getting vaccinated. People who registered as far back as January 21, are just now getting their appointment scheduled. However, Fairfax continues to communicate with people who have registered to keep them in the loop.

Registered residents can visit the county’s vaccine registration dashboard to get an update on their status. They are also eligible to receive a text, email, or phone call informing them of where stand in the cue and when their vaccine becomes available.

“One of the important lessons we learned is, getting people registered is important, but it’s also important in relieving anxiety by telling people where they are in the cue,” said McKay.

Fairfax will continue to make improvements to their system as they see fit, but McKay feels comfortable with the adjustments that have already been made to make the process more user-friendly.

The feedback Fairfax has received on their system has been overwhelmingly positive said McKay. Residents have expressed appreciation for how well-manned Fairfax’s vaccination process is and transparent the communication process is.

“It makes us feel wonderful about the operation we have,” said McKay.

More Vaccines Incoming

When Fairfax decided to move forward with its own system back in February, there were more than 100,000 residents on the waitlist. McKay says that number hasn’t changed much over the last month, but the number of vaccines they are receiving has.

Since early February, the Virginia Department of Health started supplying Fairfax County with between 13,000 and 19,000 doses per week. This week, they received 31,000. McKay called it a “huge headline” that Fairfax has seen their doses increase by more than a third this week. 

According to McKay, last week was previously their best week of 19,220 doses. A 38 percent increase is no small number.

“This week, we’re focused on making sure all 31,000 of those doses get into the arms of people,” said McKay. “I think you will see that waitlist whittle down significantly.”

Future Outlook for Fairfax

The more vaccines that become available, the faster the county will be able to chip away at the 100,000 who are still waiting.

Fairfax will continue to vaccinate phase 1b, which consists of frontline workers, people 65 and up, people 16-64 with underlying health issues, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps.

The state allows individual jurisdictions to dictate who gets vaccines as a part of 1b. McKay said most of 1b is eligible, but the plan any day now is to open the vaccine to frontline workers including, grocery store workers, transit operators, and other classes of essential workers.

“We’re expecting by the middle or end of April at worst to be completely done with phase 1b,” McKay stated.

Looking back to the start of the pandemic, it has been one year since Virginia saw its first COVID-related death, which happened to be in Fairfax County. In total, 1,052 Fairfax residents are deceased because of COVID, and 68,932 are currently infected.

However, even through difficult times, Fairfax hasn’t lost sight of its progress. McKay has no regrets over choosing their own registration system over the state’s, and he is proud of the progress they have made. For the foreseeable future, the goal will be fighting COVID and making strides toward defeating the disease.

“We’re going to put every resource, every effort we possibly can into fighting this pandemic,” he said.