As Virginia grapples with the temporary loss of Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a critical juncture in the pandemic where cases and hospitalizations are rising once again, state leaders said Friday that every resident who wants a vaccine could still receive their first dose by end of May.
The reassurance comes in the days before Virginia makes every person 16 and up eligible for a vaccine, essentially widening who can make a vaccination appointment by millions of people.
Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a statement. “The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”
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Starting Sunday, residents will be able to directly schedule appointments through the Vaccinate Virginia database. Individuals in Phase 1 who have yet to receive a sign-up link will be prioritized.
On Friday, the state reported more than 5 million total vaccines have been administered and nearly 1 out of every 4 residents is fully vaccinated — a figure 5.7 times the same count two months ago.
Virginia is administering an average of 77,755 shots each day or about 544,285 per week. At this rate, it would take about three months to reach herd immunity, or 75% of the population fully vaccinated.
Though the state has a capacity to reach at least 110,647 daily vaccinations and quicken the pace, demand is lowering in areas outside of Richmond, Blue Ridge and Northern Virginia’s health districts.
The Virginia Department of Health is experiencing challenges in breaking down vaccine skepticism in remote areas and among conservatives, a complication playing out across the U.S.
Without buy-in from those most reluctant, vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said Virginia could hit a wall in May and June when supply is expected to no longer be tight.
Concerns this could set back efforts to safely reopen is coupled with worries of Virginians relaxing behaviors too soon while the highly transmissible U.K. variant becomes the dominant strain.
A Friday update from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, which tracks COVID-19 trends, projected a summer peak by the Fourth of July weekend if precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks aren’t taken.
Another barrier to vaccinating as many Virginians as possible is accessibility.
VDH and its local health districts have worked to improve equitable distribution through community partnerships, drive-thru and mobile clinics, launching state-run vaccination centers in high-risk neighborhoods and increasing its translation services online and through the state call center.
Another tool hoping to help is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder site, which maps pharmacies and hospitals that have available appointments.
Soon, it’ll include community vaccination centers and local health departments.
But Black and Latino populations are still being vaccinated at lower rates, and their percentage of vaccinations does not match their percentage of cases and hospitalizations.
Information on VaccineFinder is only in English, and while the site shows availability for nearby locations, signing up for an appointment requires navigating multiple windows and options are not necessarily in real time, which could cause confusion.
On 3 p.m. Friday, the last update was 9 hours ago.
Not all pharmacies listed offer translations for the forms that need filling out while others require a phone call for registration. Some ask individuals for Social Security, insurance or Driver’s license numbers but state the details could be skipped.
In Virginia and nationwide, vaccines are free regardless of insurance or immigration status. Other options for registering for a shot include calling 877-829-4682, a state service with assistance available in more than 100 languages including American Sign Language and vaccinate.virginia.gov.