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Roanoke area prepares to finish big vaccination week

Roanoke area prepares to finish big vaccination week


The first teachers and elderly people living in the Roanoke Valley to get the COVID-19 vaccines were scheduled to get their second doses as dicey winter weather made sweeps through the region.

Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, said Friday that the teacher clinic went off as scheduled, and people were advised that if they had an early appointment and needed to wait until temperatures warmed and melted ice, it was OK to come late.

She expected the same would play out at the clinic Saturday, when the first rounds of people 65 and older are scheduled to return to the Berglund Center for their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“Obviously, we’d like people to adhere to the schedule as much as possible,” she said, asking people to be patient if the lines are longer than their first time through.

The health districts and Carilion Clinic teamed up three weeks ago to vaccinate 2,000 teachers and 4,600 older adults. They were due for their second dose at the same time the people who had been vaccinated with Moderna’s product the week before were ready for theirs.

In addition, 3,150 first doses went into arms this week, making it the biggest shot week yet in the area, at 11,000 doses.

Also this weekend, the districts’ preregistration survey will be taken down, as will all of those across the state, as the Virginia Department of Health creates a central database that will provide uniform registration, a process intended to be easier for both people and health districts to use.

“Right now, I can just speak for the Roanoke Alleghany Health Districts, we have over 65,000 entries in our local database. We know about 50% of those are duplicates,” Morrow said. “In addition, we have not been able to pull off those who already have been vaccinated.”

This can lead to time wasted calling to schedule people who have already gotten their shots.

“I believe when we go back online Tuesday morning, we will have a much more efficient process in place to identify who wants to be vaccinated, and who still needs to be vaccinated,” she said. “We will then have the ability to be very strategic in who we outreach to make sure the highest-risk individuals have access to those vaccine spots.”

Morrow said some of the people who have preregistered are younger than 65 but have underlying health conditions that place them at higher risk of a poor outcome from COVID-19. Although, they, too, are permitted to receive vaccine under Phase 1b, they are lower on the priority list.

She said they are working first to get 75 and older vaccinated, and then 65 to 74.

“We don’t have a good system in place to identify who, if you are between the ages of 16 and 64, should be the priority for getting limited vaccine,” she said. “We don’t have the capacity at this point to differentiate between a 22-year-old who’s otherwise healthy who smokes, and a 61-year-old with underlying lung disease and cancer.”

She said the new preregistration tool could help by providing more information, and as the vaccine becomes more plentiful physicians can make those decisions for the patients they serve.

Dr. Danny Avula, who is heading the state’s vaccination effort, said in a media call Friday, “There has got to be some room on the ground for providers to make decisions around which type of underlying conditions we push to the front of the line, and which type of conditions do we ask to wait.

“This is a hard place for America. We’ve never really been in a place where we had to ration a scarce resource, and functionally, that’s where we are right now,” he said. “We have a very limited resource in vaccine. We have a very large number of people who want it, and we’ve got to use guidelines and our best judgment to try to meet individuals with the highest risk.”

Avula said the state is receiving 130,000 doses a week, plus CVS is getting 26,000 doses. Additional doses are going to federal employees and veterans. Supplies are expected to increase in March once Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is approved and Pfizer and Moderna production increases.

“What we are hearing out of the federal government is that by April most everybody who wants vaccine will have access to it, but we haven’t seen numbers,” Avula said.

For now, Virginia is using some of its weekly doses to vaccinate people in long-term care who weren’t part of the federal pharmacy program and is allocating most of them to local health districts based on their share of the state’s population.

The districts are to use half for people 65 and older, who are at the most risk for severe outcomes, and half for essential workers, and they may also fit younger adults who have underlying illnesses into the vaccination schedule.

Once the centralized system is launched next week, people will be able to check that they are in the system and update information if needed. All Virginians will fill out the same form that will collect more information about underlying conditions.

The state’s call center is also expected to be up and running next week, with hundreds of people hired to help those without computers or the skills to use them get into the system.


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