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Improvement touted at mass vaccination clinics at Richmond Raceway in Henrico, but more supply needed
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Improvement touted at mass vaccination clinics at Richmond Raceway in Henrico, but more supply needed

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Since Jan. 18, nearly 16,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered at clinics at Richmond Raceway in Henrico County.

However, if more doses were available, approximately 6,000 vaccines could be administered in a 12-hour period at the raceway site. Currently, the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts are receiving roughly 6,400 doses per week from the state, so after the health districts split up the vaccine, Henrico receives approximately 3,800 doses.

“I think the most important takeaway here is that, where we were a few weeks ago is a far cry from where we are now,” Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution coordinator, said Tuesday night at the Henrico Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Things are moving in an incredible direction and very quickly,” Avula said. “And again, we have the capacity to vaccinate at a larger scale; we just don’t have the vaccine to be able to do it.”

Henrico officials leaped into action in early January to locate the raceway as a site that not only provided ample space but also access to bus routes and interstate highways.

Through a regional effort, public safety and public school employees in Richmond and the counties of Henrico, Hanover and Goochland have been able to receive a vaccine dose at the raceway.

“We want to be able to take care of our whole community,” said Jackson Baynard, chief of Henrico’s Office of Emergency Management and Workplace Safety. “We’re focused regionally because regional partnerships are what makes the difference.”

This past weekend’s rollout at Richmond Raceway was aimed primarily at people age 75 and older. After officials received additional doses, nearly 7,500 area residents, including from Chesterfield and Hanover counties, received a vaccine there on Saturday and Tuesday.

“I know the rollout has hit some bumps, but I am fully confident that as vaccines are distributed to Henrico County, we will make sure they get into arms quickly,” Henrico Supervisor Tyrone Nelson said after Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Nelson remains hopeful that the need for equitable distribution across different racial and ethnic groups in the region will continue to improve as the rollout progresses. Black and Latino residents have accounted for more than a third of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

While the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts provide weekly doses of the vaccine, Henrico is the primary partner with the raceway to keep the clinics up and running. The county is spending approximately $25,000 a day for the rental cost of the raceway.

To get the mass vaccination clinics underway, the county entered into two private-public partnerships, one with the raceway for the space and one with Westwood Pharmacy.

One Saturday last month, Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas called Mark Oley, the owner of Westwood Pharmacy, at 7 a.m.

Vithoulkas hadn’t woken up feeling under the weather — he was just ready to plan for the vaccine rollout.

“‘Mark, I need help,’” Vithoulkas recalled telling Oley.

Vithoulkas knew receiving enough doses to vaccinate everyone would be difficult. But with Henrico already having contracts with Westwood for some county facilities, he knew that the pharmacy could help establish a vaccine supply.

Westwood put in a helping hand immediately, vaccinating Henrico public school nurses, so they could in turn give inoculations themselves.

“We are accustomed to doing vaccinations, but this is something completely new,” Oley said. “It is a challenge, but we approached it and wanted to do it as safely and effectively as we can.”

For Dr. Shubhro Pal, director of pharmacy at Westwood, having a hand in the vaccine rollout has been exhilarating.

“We as a team here enjoy the challenge and want to help the people in our county,” Pal said. “We’re looking to vaccinate as many people as we can and get herd immunity.”

jnocera@timesdispatch.com Twitter: @jessmnocera

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