Four large-scale vaccination centers are opening across Virginia to distribute doses to communities facing a heavy COVID-19 impact and barriers to vaccine access.
A site in Danville opened Monday, one in Portsmouth launched Tuesday, and a third on Virginia State University’s campus in the Ettrick area of southern Chesterfield County just outside Petersburg, a 30-minute drive from Richmond, will be fully operational starting Wednesday. The final location, in Prince William County, is scheduled to begin vaccinations next week.
The Virginia Department of Health said in a news release Tuesday that these centers do not replace other local efforts, will be state-managed and were made possible by Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.
Sites were determined using an equity analysis from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management identifying communities experiencing high COVID-19 rates. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates three of these four locations have 20% to 23.5% of their residents living in poverty. Statewide, the percentage drops to 9.9%.
Danville, Portsmouth, Petersburg and Prince William have major Black and Latino populations with COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths that exceed overall numbers for their respective health districts.
In Prince William, where about 1 in 4 residents are Latino, that demographic is more than half of its hospitalizations and a third of its deaths but 17% of the county’s vaccinations. For Portsmouth, Black residents are roughly 55% of the population, but almost 70% of hospitalizations and 62% of deaths. They’re barely 42% of vaccinations, according to the Virginia Department of Health demographic breakdown.
Crater Health District, which includes Petersburg, has ramped up vaccinations in recent weeks following help from the state and calls from Virginia politicians to address how rural health districts without a stable enough infrastructure in place were shorted in the vaccine rollout. In February, Crater had received the seventh-lowest number of doses among the state’s 35 health districts.
In a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch at the time, Democratic Del. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg said that “because equity was not prioritized, we have fallen short of preventing the routine pattern of neglect when to comes to communities of color and rural communities.”
Alaysia Black Hackett, Virginia’s deputy chief diversity officer, said Tuesday that establishing these community sites was an intentional effort to combat that cycle and prioritize equitable distribution through county, state, federal, university and local health department partnerships.
The VSU site is expected to start off vaccinating 3,000 people a day this week and ultimately build up to 6,000, which will depend on supply availability.
The venture also includes IEM Health and AshBritt Management and Logistics, which are contracted with Virginia to open its community vaccination centers.
Gerardo Castillo, the companies’ senior COVID-19 response director who helped direct clinics in Florida and Texas, said the state’s sites worked to hire residents from surrounding neighborhoods to ensure those working the events mirror the demographics of each locality.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been extensively tracking national trends in vaccinations, found Black and Latino adults were more likely to feel comfortable with vaccinations upon seeing family, friends and health care providers in their community receiving them.
The events are by appointment only and no walk-ins will be accepted. People who have preregistered for a dose and are eligible will be contacted to sign up for an appointment. VDH asks individuals to not show up earlier than 20 minutes prior to the appointment time and to bring a copy of their invitation confirming identity and sign-up.
Some health districts to go into next phase
VDH announced Tuesday that parts of Virginia will soon head into Phase 1c, the third and final part of the state’s vaccine distribution plan for essential workers. This group includes residents who work in energy, construction, food service or media.
The Chesterfield, Chickahominy, Henrico and Richmond health districts are not currently included in the shift. The local departments expanded into the rest of Phase 1b last week with the exception of Chesterfield, which is limiting distribution to Phase 1b’s first six categories. (The Chickahominy Health District includes Hanover County.)
The Eastern Shore and the Pittsylvania-Danville health districts are among those that will be making the shift.
The VDH said the decision to enter the next phase depends on efforts to reach individuals eligible in 1a and 1b populations, especially in hard-hit communities, and whether demand in the first two phases has decreased.
Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, urged eligible Virginians to preregister if they haven’t done so and check that their information is complete, because in some localities, “those on that preregistration list will be contacted in days, not weeks, to schedule an appointment.”
All health districts are expected to move into Phase 1c by mid-April, with anyone over the age of 16 who lives or works in Virginia to be eligible for a vaccine by May 1. This follows President Joe Biden’s directive for states to make every adult in the U.S. eligible for a vaccine by then.
To preregister, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) 829-4682.