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Limited doses of vaccine to be split between essential workers and oldest residents

Limited doses of vaccine to be split between essential workers and oldest residents

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With demand outpacing vaccine supplies, scammers are trying to take advantage of frustrated people, the director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts warned Tuesday.

“We are getting reports that people in our area are getting emails from companies stating they will help with vaccine appointments. This is not true. The only messaging regarding vaccines at this time will be coming from the Roanoke City Alleghany Health District, PrepMod or VAMS registration services. Please be mindful of the links that you click in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Cynthia Morrow.

PrepMod is the registration system used by Carilion and VAMS is the one used by the health districts to schedule large employer groups.

For now, the only way to have a chance at an appointment is to fill out a survey. Morrow said the health districts are working with the state office and with local emergency management to come up with a phone system capable of taking a high volume of calls, and expects a solution next week.

She suggested that older residents who don’t feel comfortable using the internet to have a friend or relative fill out the survey, but to also realize that being on the list doesn’t guarantee an appointment.

“The reality is we do not have enough vaccine for everybody who is eligible,” Morrow said.

Nearly half of all Virginians are now eligible under the state's phased system to receive the vaccine.

Locally, “that’s over 100,000 people who are eligible and yet we only are receiving approximately 3,000 doses a week. The math is the math,” she said. “It is critically important for people to understand it is going to be months before we can get everybody vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated unless something dramatically changes with the vaccine supply.”

The Virginia Department of Health last week announced that it would apportion the weekly allotment of 105,000 doses to the health districts based on their share of the state’s population. The health districts then decide how the vaccine will be given.

This is a change from past weeks, when doses were being ordered by the health districts but also by health systems and other vaccinators.

Morrow said her districts plan to host closed clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays for health care workers, first responders and teachers, and on Wednesdays for residents who are 75 and older.

She said they plan to split the 3,000 doses as evenly as they can between the workers and older residents.

While people 65 to 74 are also eligible, Morrow said they are prioritizing the oldest residents as they are the most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill and dying from COVID-19.

Email and phone invitations to this Wednesday’s clinic went out Tuesday morning to people 75 and older who had filled out a survey expressing interest in the vaccine. Appointments filled rapidly, leaving people who missed out once again frustrated.

Morrow said the supply of vaccine is just too small for the demand. About 10,000 people are on the waiting list.

“It’s going to take a long time to get through that list,” Morrow said. “I wish I had a different answer. I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a different answer. But the reality is we have far, far more demand than we have supply. So even if your name is on the list that does not guarantee you will be vaccinated within the next few weeks.”

Morrow said they are also developing strike teams that can take the vaccine to smaller community settings that would reach people without transportation and would help address racial and ethnic disparities.

She said that as a public health official, it was concerning to see the lack of diversity at vaccination clinics held at the Berglund Center last weekend for people 65 and older.

“What I can tell you is we are very mindful of both the barriers and the understandable distrust among different segments of the population that we serve,” she said.

The Virginia Department of Health’s website shows that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on African American and Hispanic populations, and that vaccine uptake among these groups is disproportionately lower than it is for whites. However, race and ethnicity information is not available for about 300,000 of the 569,000 doses given.

On an encouraging note, Morrow said that it does appear that new infections are slowing.

“I am hesitant to say it, but I do believe this represents a change in trajectory,” she said in noting that the number of new cases last week was 672 in her districts. The week before, there were 1,432 new cases.

Hospitalizations were also trending down, with 62 new admissions in her districts over the last week, or seven fewer than the week before.

She said it will take a few more weeks of data to see if the downward trend holds, and she cautioned everyone to continue masking, distancing, hand-washing to prevent the spread.

 

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