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Danny Avula column: Why you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccine yet?
Public health

Danny Avula column: Why you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccine yet?

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As of the third week of February, Virginia has administered almost 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine throughout the commonwealth. With about 6.5 million adults, Virginia ranks in the top 10 among states in percent of available doses used.

We have the infrastructure and partnerships in place to vaccinate more than 50,000 people a day, but we can’t consistently do this — not yet — because of national supply shortages. However, I want to make it clear that even without the level of supply we need, public health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other providers are doing a phenomenal job of administering the vaccine.

Our public health workers are spending 12- and 16-hour days, sometimes six or seven days a week, vaccinating hundreds to thousands of people in a single day. They are answering thousands of emails and phone calls, and finding ways to help residents overcome their doubts and fears about the vaccine.

They’re going door to door in low-income neighborhoods to help seniors without email addresses make vaccination appointments and scheduling pop-up clinics in communities where transportation access is low.

They are continuing to offer testing, contact tracing, data tracking and the many other high-quality public health services they offered before COVID-19 came to Virginia this past February.

If you still are waiting for your vaccine, it’s not because you aren’t being taken care of but because you are: The vaccine doses we’ve received have gone to the people who staff your emergency department, fight your fires, teach your children, and grow and sell your food.

They’ve gone to older adults — your loved ones, your neighbors — who would be more likely to get severely ill or to die from COVID-19. The public health team that supports your community is upholding strict priorities and having hard conversations with angry residents because they are doing what is best for all of us.

What they need in return is our patience, our respect and hopefully our gratitude for their daily efforts to bring this pandemic to an end.

Many people in Phase 1b still are waiting to be vaccinated, but we are optimistic that Virginia’s supply will continue to increase in the weeks ahead. The federal government steadily has increased our supply over the past three weeks from 105,000 to approximately 130,000 first doses per week.

At the end of January, we reached our goal of 50,000 shots in arms per day for the first time. And we did it four days in a row. We also expect supply to steadily increase in March and April.

Pfizer and Moderna both are working to expand production and get more doses out, and other vaccines likely soon will get authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Our public health teams and providers across the commonwealth are ready to ramp up as soon as these supplies are available.

One of the biggest challenges people have had is getting registered for a vaccination. That has been addressed by this week’s launch of a new call center and a centralized preregistration system serving all Virginia residents and workers.

You can sign up for your vaccine online at Vaccinate.Virginia.gov anytime. Or if you want to speak to a human, you can call (877) VAX-IN-VA [or (877) 829-4682] and talk with a live operator.

Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week, someone will be available to take your call, including English- and Spanish-speaking agents, and a callback service in more than 100 other languages. There also is TTY service to assist people who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired.

After you preregister, you will be contacted when it’s your turn to get a vaccination. This will include specific information about how to schedule an appointment date, time and location. When you preregister, you will receive a confirmation update and periodic reminders.

In the meantime, you should continue to wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your distance from people outside of your household. I know you have heard these same messages for almost a year, but it’s as important as ever, particularly as we begin to see new variants of the disease circulate across the United States.

Know that your turn to be vaccinated will come, and when you’re checking in at the vaccination clinic, try to remember to thank the public health workers in front of you — they are tired, they are amazing and they have done everything in their power to make your vaccination possible.

Dr. Danny Avula was appointed Virginia’s vaccination coordinator by Gov. Ralph Northam in January. When not on special assignment, he serves as the director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts. Learn more at: vaccinate.virginia.gov

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