Seniors and elderly Virginians will be prioritized for coronavirus vaccines as local health departments work through their limited supplies, according to Dr. Danny Avula, state vaccination coordinator.
All cities and counties expanded into Phase 1b by the start of last week. That means residents who are ages 65 and older, front-line essential workers and adults with high-risk medical conditions are now eligible for immunizations statewide.
Without enough doses to meet the demand, Virginia is directing local health leaders to commit about half of their rationed doses each week to vaccinating the older population. Their reasoning: Elderly people who get COVID-19 are far more likely to become seriously ill or die.
“When compared to 20- to 30-year-olds, when you’re 65 to 74, that’s a 90 times greater chance of death if you were to contract COVID,” Avula said at the Virginia Vaccine Advisory Workgroup meeting Monday. “When you compare that to 75 to 84-year-olds, it’s a 220 times greater chance of death.”
On a “parallel track,” the state wants local health departments to put the other half of their weekly allocations toward vaccinating a variety of frontline essential workers. Then, “sprinkled” throughout the phase, they should offer opportunities for other adults with high-risk factors, Avula said.
But that formula may not be the singular message trickling down to the people running local operations.
Dr. Nancy Welch, Chesapeake’s health director, said the city held two large vaccination events Saturday. One was a partnership with a church and focused on vaccinating minorities. The other targeted essential workers, with about 30% of doses set aside for elderly residents, she said. Altogether the day netted about 1,100 vaccinations.
Virginia Health and Human Resources Sec. Dan Carey and Janice Underwood, the state’s chief diversity officer, attended the event aimed at reaching minorities. Both leaders spoke extensively on the need for the number of shots administered to minorities to be comparable to their population percentages, she said.
Reaching Black and Brown residents, who are at higher risk of getting the coronavirus and becoming seriously ill from it, seemed to be their top interest, Welch said.
“We are trying to balance everything because of the different messages that we’re receiving,” she said. “It’s hard to please everybody.”
As of Tuesday, about 743,000 Virginians had gotten at least their first dose of the vaccine, and 131,000 had also received their booster, which comes three or four weeks after the initial shot. About 40% of all vaccinations so far have been injected into people ages 60 and older, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Meanwhile, the state is only receiving a little over 100,000 new doses from the federal government each week. Virginia is distributing those limited supplies to localities in amounts relative to their population sizes. Most are only receiving a few thousand doses a week.
Starting last week, state health officials allowed some second doses, which are shipped directly to vaccinators from the manufacturers, to be converted into first doses to get more people immunized. Doing so has required “active management of our inventory,” Avula said, to ensure those vaccinators will have twice that amount of doses on the way.
Many elderly people who are in assisted living facilities or nursing homes are receiving their shots through a federal partnership program with Walgreens and CVS. The pharmacy chains have been making the rounds to long-term care sites, which have been among the hardest-hit during the pandemic.
But other aging Virginians who don’t live in those settings are waiting their turns to roll up their sleeves. And while some medical groups associated with large hospital systems already have doses to offer their patients from Phase 1a, a slew of other primary care practices who aren’t affiliated haven’t received any supplies.
Throughout the state, local health departments are mainly reaching seniors by giving doses to vaccinators who are prioritizing that population, such as pharmacies, or they’re creating points-of-dispensing sites, better known as PODs.
Beginning next week, CVS plans to administer up to 26,000 shots to eligible customers across Virginia. Those vaccine supplies will come from the same federal program that is inoculating long-term care residents, according to the company.
When it comes to the essential workers, health departments are working down a list of the following groups: police, firefighters, hazmat workers, corrections and homeless shelter employees, childcare workers, Pre-K-12 teachers, food and agriculture workers, factory workers, grocery store employees, public transit workers, mail carriers, and officials needed to maintain government, including judges.
Avula said the state wants local health leaders to follow that list in order, though they’re not required to strictly adhere to it.
“That isn’t being followed perfectly in every community,” he said. “But really this is what we want to be prioritized, and the way that we want this to be playing out in every district.”
Elisha Sauers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-222-3864