Starting Thursday, Walgreens will join CVS Health in offering COVID-19 vaccinations at some of its pharmacies for Virginians who meet the criteria.
The details of how many doses are coming to the state through this federal partnership, the number of stores administering shots, where they’re located and if appointments will sync with Virginia’s registration system remained unclear Monday.
In a statement, the Virginia Department of Health said the agency is “evaluating the situation and is still working on the details related to the pharmacy expansion.” The ability to schedule an appointment on the Walgreens site is not yet available for Virginians.
Giving insight into possible sites is the national chain’s promise to distribute nearly half of its vaccine to areas with limited medical access and high social vulnerability, a metric used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to gauge which communities need the most support during a public health crisis.
Factors include race and ethnicity, poverty, lack of transportation, crowded housing and financial loss.
In Virginia, these areas are heavily concentrated in rural, southern parts of the state such as Emporia, where nearly 1 in 3 residents are living in poverty and more than 63% are Black.
Richmond, where the South Side holds a majority of the city’s COVID cases and hospitalizations, is among the highest-ranking for its population of English learners, crowded housing and limited transportation.
In a media release Friday, Walgreens said it’s collaborating with Uber to offer free rides and is hosting vaccination clinics directly in underserved communities to limit barriers.
The pharmacy chain is also working with faith-based organizations and prioritizing educational outreach to build confidence in a potentially lifesaving vaccine.
CVS is working with Lyft to do the same, in addition to working with nonprofit organizations and free clinics to ensure doses are available in Black and Latino communities. Last week, City Council members called on CVS to use its South Richmond store that’s currently storing vaccines for long-term care facilities, for vaccinations.
Spokesperson Amy Thibault said Monday that the timeline to expand depends on additional doses. The pharmacy chain is receiving 26,000 this week.
But two months into vaccinations, more than 40% of rural or Latino residents said they immediately want the vaccine compared with 35% of Black adults, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation released Jan. 27.
The study also found that messaging, and knowing someone who’s been vaccinated, eased hesitancy.
“Our pharmacy team members reflect the communities we serve and have a deep understanding of the barriers to care among those most impacted by the pandemic,” said Carlos Cubia, Walgreens’ chief global diversity officer. “This initiative, combined with our community presence, allows us to create tailored solutions that can help to improve the health of communities.”
Adding to this federal push is Virginia’s plans to shift its vaccine distribution model toward localities with high COVID hospitalization and death rates among Black and Latino residents ages 65 and up. The change is expected in the next few weeks and would amplify already trusted vaccinators in the hardest-hit ZIP codes.
But as with CVS, trickiness lies in the online appointment system that heavily relies on internet access and doesn’t operate in tandem with the state’s registration system that launched last week.
Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, attributed the limited answers on logistics to a quick turnaround from when the federal government announced the new program, which went into effect in 17 other states Feb. 12.
“Some of that could just be us downloading our preregistered lists and handing it to them and then making appointments,” Avula said in a media briefing Friday. “When we have multiple pharmacy in specific localities, there’s just some organizational work we’ll need to do.”
The state and federal pharmacy systems syncing has been an ongoing battle with the CVS launch, and one intended to ensure the federal programs don’t widen the disparities that have left white Virginians receiving vaccines at 2.2 times the rate of Black residents — or open opportunities for residents to sign up for appointments through multiple avenues.
According to Thibault, Virginia is the only state CVS has tried accommodating with the request to vaccinate people already preregistered.
More than 13% of Virginia’s population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, and the state has administered 1.6 million doses. The average of shots given dropped over the weekend, but that’s largely due to the ice storm canceling vaccination clinics statewide.
Roughly 76% of the state’s 2 million available doses have been used. Of the vaccines allotted for first doses, 91% have been administered. For second doses, it’s currently almost 54%
By the numbers
Virginia reported 1,155 new cases on Wednesday, the lowest single-day increase since Nov. 2. This is still higher than numbers seen during the summer COVID surge and most of October.
The state’s total caseload is at 565,270, with 44% of infections recorded in the past two months. Hospitalizations continue to see a sustained decline, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, and the seven-day average of people hospitalized is at 1,693.
On Friday, COVID patient numbers were at 1,843.
While Virginia reported nearly 388 COVID deaths over the weekend for a total of 7,486 people who have died from the virus, the Virginia Department of Health noted on its website that the increase is due to the agency processing death certificates related to the post-holiday surge.
The VDH said date of death is a more accurate snapshot. Virginia hit an all-time on New Year’s Eve, with 63 deaths.
Richmond has had 14,499 cases, 670 hospitalizations and 161 deaths. Chesterfield County has had 23,077 cases, 769 hospitalizations and 246 deaths.
Henrico County has had 20,950 cases, 841 hospitalizations and 390 deaths. Hanover County has had 6,522 cases, 246 hospitalizations and 114 deaths.