Frustrated with the limited availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses in South Richmond, two City Council members called on CVS Pharmacy to make shots available at a store stockpiling doses for long-term care facilities.
In a news conference Wednesday night outside of the CVS off Walmsley Boulevard, 9th District Councilman Michael Jones said he would consider a public boycott of the national pharmacy chain if the store refuses to vaccinate nearby residents.
“We don’t want to go there. We want to take a more measured response. ... We’re not here to take doses from anybody,” said Jones, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the state’s 69th House District. “We just want intentionality on our side of the river.”
The location — one of two CVS pharmacies south of the James River — is in a federal partnership separate from the agreement that opened 36 sites in Virginia for in-store vaccinations this month.
Hindering an expansion of locations is the limited supply, said CVS spokeswoman Amy Thibault. She said the 26,000 doses allotted for the first round of vaccinations ran out within five days.
Only one CVS on West Broad Street, roughly a 20-minute drive from the Walmsley location, is conducting in-store vaccinations. The South Side store’s storage freezer space has been designated to hold doses as a central location for pharmacists to pick up and provide in nursing homes.
“They spread them around so teams don’t have to drive five hours to get to a clinic,” said Thibault, who added that the federal Social Vulnerability index was a factor in selecting which pharmacies would administer vaccines.
Thibault said the company found out about the council members’ request from reporters and that the government affairs team contact that local officials reach out to had not heard from them. CVS then attempted to contact the council members ahead of the 5 p.m. media briefing to clarify information but were unsuccessful as of 4:30 p.m., Thibault added.
While a soon-to-be influx of vaccines is slated to trickle in from the federal government, a timeline for when there will be enough supply for CVS to have more than one Richmond location offering vaccinations is unclear.
Adding to the confluence of obstacles is the technology-heavy process of signing up for an appointment through its portal, and its initial first-come first-served approach, which garnered criticism in the initial rollout.
Both Jones and 8th District City Councilwoman Reva Trammell said the barriers to accessibility aren’t fair to their constituents, who have carried the bulk of the city’s COVID-19 cases for nearly a year.
Trammell laid blame on Gov. Ralph Northam and state lawmakers for failing to address the disparities the pandemic laid bare in South Richmond. Further inaction could lead to more COVID-19 deaths, she added.
“We represent some of the poorest of the poor,” Trammell said. “They don’t have cars, they can’t drive. They’re elderly. They don’t want to cross the river. They want to come here or the churches up here.”
The Richmond and Henrico health districts have deployed mobile vaccine clinics across the East End, South Richmond and North Side to prioritize high-risk populations. Partnerships with faith leaders have led to a rising number of church vaccination events in recent weeks. A permanent vaccination site south of the river is expected to go up by March.
In the meantime, 73-year-old Rudy Tabb, a resident of the 8th District, said he’s still waiting for a call from health officials one month after signing an interest form to get the shot. Tabb is a 15-minute drive away from the closest vaccination site, and an inadequate health care infrastructure in South Richmond means having limited options.
“The system could be working a bit more smoothly,” he said.