The director of the Roanoke region's health districts has a message for all who have waited patiently to be vaccinated.
“It is now your turn. We’ve been waiting a long time to say that,” Dr. Cynthia Morrow said Tuesday during a media briefing.
“The big news here is Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts are now in Phase 2. This means any resident above the age of 16 can go on vaccinate.virginia.gov, get preregistered and enroll in one of our clinics,” she said.
For months, demand for the vaccine had outstripped supplies. Last Tuesday, Morrow told reporters during her weekly briefing that the districts were still trying to get all the elderly residents and those with underlying medical conditions vaccinated.
As soon as clinic appointments took longer to fill, the district would move to the next phase of workers and then to the general public. Within days, that demand was met, thanks to an increased supply of vaccine, and as of Monday anyone living in the Roanoke region is eligible.
In addition to the mass clinics at the Salem Civic Center and the Berglund Center, run jointly by the health departments and Carilion Clinic, more pharmacies and physicians now have the vaccine.
“We are now at the point where there are a lot of entry points for people to be vaccinated, and that’s what we wanted in December,” she said. “The consequence of that is as people are getting vaccinated in different places, we are experiencing higher no-show rates for both first and second doses.”
Morrow said the mass vaccination clinics will continue through mid-May to give out second doses. First-dose clinics are scheduled for this week and next as about 13,000 doses are coming both weeks.
Morrow said the clinics are the fastest and most efficient way to vaccinate a lot of people.
“I’m hopeful we can use all of that vaccine, because that means people are doing their part to protect themselves and their loved ones. But after next week, we will have to take it day by day,” she said.
The focus is shifting to more small clinics in neighborhoods and communities with people who have hurdles for getting vaccinated.
Most of the communities within the districts have higher vaccination rates than the state average. Craig County and Covington have lower rates. Morrow said Covington has done a great job with its oldest residents, as nearly 90% of those 75 and older have been vaccinated.
Craig County, with about 27% of its population having at least one dose, has the lowest rate in the districts, while Roanoke County, with 41% of its population vaccinated, has the highest rate.
More than 150,000 doses have been given in the districts. Statewide, as of Tuesday, nearly 4.3 million doses had been administered, with one-third of Virginia's population having had at least one dose, and 18.4% being fully vaccinated.
While vaccines have been approved for only those who are 16 and older, the percentages are reported based on total populations, including children, as required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in preventing cases of COVID-19. Morrow said the districts have had 10 cases of the virus in people who were fully vaccinated but that none of the cases led to serious illness or hospitalization. She said two cases were in people older than 80, and all of them in people 40 and above.
She said cases overall are down slightly from last week but hospitalizations have risen, and at least three cases were linked to a variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom that is believed to be more contagious and to possibly cause more severe disease.