Many of Loudoun’s elected delegation to the General Assembly took part in an electronic town hall meeting Tuesday evening focusing on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Loudoun.
Both they and health leaders said they understood the frustration felt by many in Loudoun and statewide about the low vaccine supply, but urged patience. Although many have been waiting anxiously for their first dose of the vaccine, Sen. John Bell (D-13) said Virginians have a lot to be proud of.
“Over 1.5 million vaccinations have been given here in Virginia. We’re in the top 10 in the U.S. We’re beating all states of a similar size,” he shared.
Already, 2.6% of the state’s population has received both doses of the vaccination, he added.
Bell was joined in the Zoom meeting by several of his counterparts in the General Assembly—Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27), Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10), Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33), Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), Del. David Reid (D-32), Del. Karrie Delaney (D-67), and Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31).
But it was the health officials who took center stage during the session. Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Department, and the state’s COVID vaccine coordinator, said right now the state is receiving 130,000 doses of the vaccine each week. Without a sharp increase, it could still be a few months until the general public, or those beyond the essential workers and older Virginians in phases 1A through 1C, are able to get vaccinated.
“Without a drastic increase it’s going to take two to three months to get through [phase] 1B. 1C may take another few months after that. For the general public [to get vaccinated] we really are looking at early summer,” Avula said.
He also said it could still be awhile yet before a COVID vaccine is approved for children. Right now, Pfizer is the only vaccination approved for minors, but only for children age 16 and above.
“It’s going to be four to six months before we have enough compelling data for the FDA to make a recommendation around kids,” he said.
With the state’s vaccination rollout currently in phase 1B, 50% of the vaccines coming into a community are dedicated to individuals age 65 and over, while the other 50% are geared towards essential worker groups, like teachers and healthcare workers, in phases 1A and 1B, Avula said. He acknowledged confusion and frustration surrounding CVS’ recent announcement that it would be receiving 26,000 doses of the vaccines to give to Virginians. Avula said state health leaders hoped that the vaccines at CVS would be made available to those who had already pre-registered with their local health departments.
“Our goal was to make sure that Virginians who have already pre-registered, were already on the waitlist with the Loudoun County Health Department and other state health departments, we can make sure we’re honoring their place in line. We tried every way we could think of—password protected websites, mass uploads of lists. Ultimately, we couldn’t come up with a technological solution to allow our folks to be prioritized. It was really disappointing,” Avula said.
Instead, CVS’ platform to register for a vaccine is strictly online, which Avula said could prove to be tricky for those without internet access or who are not as technologically savvy. Vaccines will be distributed at 36 CVS stores throughout the state—including the Lansdowne location in Loudoun—and are limited to individuals 65 and over. Each store is expected to dispense about 100 doses per week.
Avula added that state leadership expects the vaccines to soon be available at more chain pharmacies throughout Virginia, through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Locally, Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend said the pre-registration platform for Loudouners to register for a vaccine has been in place for about a month. Thus far, 100,000 registrations have been submitted, which he said amounts to around 60,000 to 70,000 unique individuals. Despite the interest, the vaccine shortage has meant the county is currently through only those who registered as of Jan. 13.
“We understand there’s a good amount of frustration having to wait for a vaccine now that it’s here. We’re trying to get the information out to all the people on the list to let them know we know they’re still there,” he said.
Currently, Loudoun has one mass vaccination site, at the former Nordstroms store in Dulles Town Center mall. There, the county is vaccinating about 800 people daily, with 25 vaccinators. There is sufficient space to go up to 100 vaccinators on site when more vaccines are available, Goodfriend said.
“The goal would be when we have [more] vaccines to have multiple sites. The hope is eventually to get to the point that you get the COVID vaccine at the same place you get your flu or booster shot—your local pharmacy or doctor’s office,” he said.
Goodfriend also pointed to the positive partnerships forged between the health department and local nonprofits and community leaders over the past year since the pandemic took hold, and said those partnerships could help provide more access points to dispensing vaccines once it is more widely available.
“I’m looking forward to the day that we’re looking for people to give the vaccine to,” he said.
Both Avula and Goodfriend expressed positivity about the hopes of safely reopening schools, per Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent declaration that schools need to begin offering some in-person instruction by March 15. Goodfriend said receiving a vaccination is reassuring for the school staff—80% of Loudoun County Public Schools’ teachers have chosen to get vaccinated, he said—but not necessary for reopening schools. He pointed to the past six months of data generated by schools, mostly private, that have been offering in-person instruction. Most have not had large-scale outbreaks, as long as social distancing guidelines have been followed.
“The underlying crux of the message is that the data consistently shows schools that are implementing effective community mitigation are really effective at minimizing the spread of COVID in the school setting,” Avula said. “Schools can do this. We need to follow the data and be reassured by the data.”
Goodfriend encouraged anyone who has pre-registered for a vaccine and is curious about his or her status to email [email protected], or call 703-737-8300. The Virginia Department of Health also maintains a website on the state’s vaccination effort, along with charts on what groups individuals fall into and vaccine availability, at vaccinate.virginia.gov.