6 ways to increase your odds of getting coronavirus vaccine on time

Elisha Sauers, The Virginian-Pilot
·6 min read

Limited supplies, lags and near-daily changes have muddled the coronavirus vaccine rollout, leaving Virginians confused about when will be their turn and where they’ll go to get immunized.

While much of the process is out of your hands, there are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t miss your shot to get your shot.

Know your “priority group.”

Do you have a high-risk health condition? Do you have a job that requires interacting with the public? Are you a senior?

These factors might place you in one of the early phases — known as 1a, 1b and 1c — for receiving a vaccine. There are so many possible medical issues and jobs that could qualify you, the list is too long for most news stories to include. But you can take a Virginia Department of Health survey, at http://bit.ly/vdhsurvey, to see where you stand in line.

If you don’t see yourself in the 1a, 1b or 1c categories, that means you’re part of Phase 2, aka everyone else. Public health officials say you’ll likely get your turn later this year.

Know what priority group your city or county is in.

Every city and county in the state is either in Phase 1b or will be starting the week of Jan. 24.

That means people who are considered 1a (health care workers and nursing home residents) and 1b (residents 65 and older, adults with high-risk health issues and front-line essential workers) technically can receive vaccines now.

But if the last transition has taught us anything, it’s that localities have not all moved from one phase to the next at the same time. It’s important for you to keep informed about changes to your health district’s status.

The state health department has provided a map that shows which priority group each local district is in, at http://bit.ly/vdhdist, and it is updated daily.

Sign up for scheduling information.

Local health care providers will be challenged to meet the demands of Phase 1b. About half of Virginia’s 8.5 million people could fit in this category. That means that even if you’re eligible now, you might have to do some waiting.

Many local health departments are telling Phase 1b residents to “pre-register” to get more information on scheduling appointments.

There isn’t one centralized scheduling tool, so go to your local health department’s website — you can find it at www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts — for more information on how to pre-register. Depending on your health department, officials may want you to fill out an online form, send an email or call a phone number.

Sign up for your doctor’s online medical records tools.

You know how your primary care provider keeps asking you to sign up for your online medical records account?

Well, if you haven’t, now is the time to reconsider.

With so many people to contact, medical practice groups will be using those portals to quickly identify people who are eligible for vaccines and to schedule appointments. Sentara Medical Group, for instance, is using MyChart as one way of reaching patients about vaccines as they are available.

This might also be the time to let your doctor’s office know if your phone numbers, email addresses or mailing addresses have changed to ensure you get information however they contact you.

Help elderly and other vulnerable people with the internet.

Getting information about vaccines is a lot easier if you have the internet.

Yet a lot of the people most susceptible to COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill or dying from it are also some of the same people who have difficulties accessing the web.

People who don’t speak English as their first language may also have unique barriers that make it harder to stay on top of the latest vaccine updates.

If you know people who are elderly or have disabilities or other circumstances limiting their access to the internet, help them get signed up for information about vaccines in their cities or counties.

Don’t leave without scheduling the next shot.

When you’ve gotten your coronavirus vaccine, you’re only halfway to inoculation.

There’s a booster that will follow either three or four weeks after your first shot, depending on whether you got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Don’t leave your vaccination without making sure you have an appointment for the second dose. Because supplies are limited, vaccinators are being urged to not sit on second doses if people don’t show up for appointments, said Dr. Danny Avula, the state vaccination coordinator.

Scheduling that second shot will give you peace of mind you’ll get both parts of the two-shot series at the recommended interval of three or four weeks.

Still confused? Find some answers.

If you’re still confused, you’re not alone.

It’s a complicated, constantly changing situation.

For more information on Virginia’s vaccination plan, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine.

If you’d prefer to try a phone number, the Virginia Department of Health hotline is 877-275-8343. Language translation services are available.

Here’s a look at the pandemic around the region:

Chesapeake reported 2,479 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 354, up from 204 a week ago.

Norfolk reported 969 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 138, up from 134 a week ago.

Virginia Beach reported 2,003 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 286, down from 338 a week ago.

Newport News reported 1,063 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 152, up from 106 a week ago.

Portsmouth reported 482 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 69, up from 67 a week ago.

Hampton reported 986 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 141, up from 69 a week ago.

James City County reported 497 new cases over the previous week, with a daily case average of 71, up from 42 a week ago.

York County reported 242 new cases for the previous week, with a daily case average of 35, up from 32 a week ago.

Suffolk reported 501 new cases for the previous week, with a daily case average of 72, up from 44 a week ago.

Williamsburg reported no new cases for the previous week, with a daily case average of zero, down from five a week ago.

During the past week, 67 people were reported to have died of the virus in Hampton Roads: 18 in Virginia Beach; nine in Norfolk; seven in Chesapeake; six in Portsmouth; five in Gloucester County; four in James City county; three each in Newport News and Suffolk; two each in Franklin, Hampton, and Isle of Wight, Mathews, Middlesex and York counties.

Accomack and Poquoson counties and Williamsburg reported no deaths.

As of Saturday, Virginia had distributed 1,010,500 vaccine doses to vaccination sites, according to the Virginia Department of Health. About 444,000 — or 44% of the supplies — has been put into people’s arms. In the entire state, 50,147 people have been fully immunized with two shots.

For other pandemic data, go to www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

Elisha Sauers, elisha.sauers@pilotonline.com, 757-222-3864