Virginia is distributing its limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines across the commonwealth based on how many people live in a particular area.
Dr. Danny Avula, who is leading Virginia’s vaccine efforts, said Friday in a media conference call that local health departments will know how many of the state's 105,000 doses they will get from week to week, but that their doses will need to be shared with hospitals, pharmacies and providers.
If a health district has 3% of the state’s population, it will get 3% of the doses.
Every part of Virginia is now in Phase 2, which means anyone 16 or older is eligible for COV…
“I think the challenge of this when you are only getting a couple thousand of doses a week to be distributed between hospitals, health systems, health departments, providers and pharmacies, how do you do that in a way that even comes close to meeting the demand?” he said. “The answer is you don’t. You can’t. And understandably that has led to a great deal of confusion and frustration on the part of our public. Hey, I’m in 1b, why can’t I find a place to get vaccinated?”
The state had been doling out the doses based on orders by health systems and health districts and was able to meet those requests when vaccinations were limited to health care workers. But as they increased their capacity to vaccinate more people, and as the list of those eligible in Phase 1b expanded to include nearly half of all Virginians, the orders were coming in for three times as many doses as the state could provide.
There is little public accounting of the doses, as Virginia has yet to post on its online dashboard how many doses have gone to each vaccinator and how many have been used. The Virginia Department of Health, in response to a request for more information early this week, provided a breakdown of doses across the five health regions that shows the vaccine was mostly distributed by population.
However, no information is available as to how many doses went to each of the health districts.
This week, the health district that serves Franklin County didn’t receive any doses, said Nancy Bell, population manager for the West Piedmont Health District.
She said people were very frustrated.
“We get it. Finally, the vaccine is here, but it’s like a carrot dangling and you can’t quite get to it,” Bell said. “We have a lot of people calling and cussing at us, saying terrible things about us, and we are working as hard as we can.”
Bell said the district was told to expect 400 doses this week and has planned to begin vaccinating teachers.
On Monday, she said, the district is also launching a way for people 65 and older or those with underlying health conditions to register for when doses become available. Links will be put on West Piedmont’s website and Facebook page. Paper copies will be at libraries, chambers of commerce, the health departments and municipal buildings for those who can’t use computers.
Bell said people will be asked to provide contact information so that once vaccines become available, they can be called to come into a clinic.
She said the district will also offer a call center on Wednesdays for people to get help registering, and will have messages on dedicated phone lines that will tell people when pharmacies or others have doses.
Bell said she understands that people were frustrated because there wasn’t a way for them to register, but she cautions that this isn’t an appointment — rather it's a way to be contacted when an appointment is available.
Teresa Tyson, president of the Health Wagon in Virginia’s coalfields, said the organization is in desperate need of vaccine as it serves some of the nation’s most vulnerable people.
“As of today, we have received zero doses to distribute to our patients. This is just not right. The vaccine should not be allocated based on population alone,” she said. “Distribution should also be based on COVID positivity rates. Rural Southwest’s positivity rate is extremely high — nearly 30%. In addition, Southwest is always, and permanently, struggling with the usual significant health care disparities that are inherent in the region and that contribute to COVID-related illnesses and deaths.”
She said the Health Wagon is ready to vaccinate hundreds or thousands of people if it could get the vaccine.
Avula said during the media call that good arguments could be made for different ways to allocate the vaccines, but state health officials thought the most equitable way would be to distribute based on population.
He said that if the availability of doses increases, they would consider add-ons that account for places with a higher percentage of elderly or vulnerable people.
He said he is encouraged that the Biden administration plans to vaccinate 100 million people during its first 100 days, but that for at least the next month, Virginia is not expecting an increase in doses.
He said the state is building the infrastructure to host mass clinics once the doses are available.