Richmond Raceway is once again becoming a community vaccination center starting Tuesday, four months after waning vaccine demand shifted the localities’ strategies to smaller, more targeted events.
When the raceway shut down on May 27, Virginia was averaging 43,382 vaccinations per day. On Thursday, the state had dipped below 10,000 shots administered for a week straight.
Unlike when the site first became a mass clinic in January, shuffling in thousands of soon-to-be vaccinated people per day, the raceway will extend its hours to 7:30 p.m. and be open on Saturdays — a move designed to prioritize working families who might not be able to pull away from work during the day.
Most major vaccine providers such as pharmacies or doctor’s offices close at 5 p.m. The latest a Richmond and Henrico County vaccination event was open this week was 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Others were until noon or 4:30 p.m.
Other than a separate clinic hosted last Sunday at Sacred Heart Center — a nonprofit dedicated to providing aid and resources to Latino communities in the Richmond area — none are on weekends.
But the site will require appointments, which hindered the vaccine rollout in the early months for communities that had little or no internet or phone access.
Appointments can be made for the Raceway at vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling the state center at (877) 829-4682 but they are not required unless an individual is seeking a Pfizer booster shot — which is separate from a third dose for immunocompromised people. Walk-ins for boosters might be accommodated if there’s availability.
Spokesperson for Richmond and Henrico’s health districts Cat Long said this is “to ensure there are enough appointments reserved for anyone who is not fully vaccinated.”
Amy Popovich, nurse manager at Richmond and Henrico’s health districts, said the work is ongoing for their mobile and homebound teams, which continue vaccinating people who are unable to leave home. They’ve expanded their network of community health workers, an essential public health arm in a pandemic in which people rely most on trusted messengers — especially in Black and non-English-speaking neighborhoods.
“We’ve learned we need to be mobile,” Popovich said Thursday in a media briefing. “We’ve learned to be accessible. We’ve learned outreach. We’ve learned the necessity of providing reliable, consistent, accurate information to our communities.”
These events, which now include COVID-19 testing, are part of the four community hubs launched last month throughout the least-vaccinated areas of the city and county, where fewer than 45% of residents have received at least one dose. These areas overlap with the localities’ highest poverty areas, which have consistently faced the greatest COVID rates.
One of them includes the census tract where the Richmond Raceway is located. Like they do statewide, vaccination rates among Black residents in Richmond and Henrico heavily trail every other racial or ethnic group.
Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said the health department is identifying more and more partners to reach Black and white male Virginians in the 40-and-up demographic — a group with one of the lowest vaccination rates — through partnering with the NFL Alumni Association and musicians who could offer either free merchandise or tickets to encourage vaccination rates, working with faith communities and partnering with historically Black colleges and universities.
“It’s kind of a mix. We’re trying everything we can,” Avula said. “If you all, as always, have any good ideas, we’re super game and would love to pursue them.”
The slow rise in vaccinations in recent months combined with the lingering political divide that has hampered the pandemic response locally and nationally have affected the group once believed to be protected against severe illness: children.
In Richmond, Black 12-to-17-year-olds have a third of the vaccination rates of their white counterparts — making them more susceptible to a virus that preys more severely on unvaccinated people. Overall, the 0-to-19 age group in Richmond also has the highest case rates across the city.
The local health districts are currently among the few statewide to publicly report the data by age and race and ethnicity. On the Virginia Department of Health site, the demographics exist separately.
Agency spokesperson Logan Anderson has said there are plans in the works for a public-facing dashboard displaying cases, hospitalizations and deaths among children. The timeline is not yet clear.
Now Virginia, like the rest of the U.S., is entering a section of the pandemic that includes reaching people who have yet to receive their first shot, preparing for the millions who could be eligible for a booster if federal agencies authorize Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients for one, and the possibility of 5-to-11-year-olds becoming eligible by Thanksgiving.
People who are eligible for a booster shot are Virginians who received both doses of Pfizer and are either: 65 and older, 18 or older and in a long-term care setting, in the 18-to-64 age group with underlying medical conditions that place them at high COVID risk, or work in a setting that increase the likelihood of contracting the virus.
*Correction: This story has been updated to show that the Raceway will be a walk-in vaccination event and appointments are not required for unvaccinated people or an immunocompromised individual seeking a third dose.