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About 57% of eligible Virginians have received the COVID-19 vaccine, state’s vaccine chief says

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The COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the old Gander Mountain retail store in Woodbridge switched to taking some walk-ins this past Thursday, April 28.

About 57% of Virginians who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine have received it, and supply is now outpacing demand.

That’s according to Dr. Danny Avula, who is overseeing Virginia’s effort to vaccinate as many people as possible against the novel coronavirus, which has so far killed 10,770 Virginians. Nineteen new deaths were reported across the state on Friday; the state is reporting an average of about 15 new deaths a day.

Demand is still high for the vaccine; the state administered more than 92,000 vaccinations in just the past 24 hours. But Virginia has turned the corner from having to restrict vaccine to the more vulnerable to making it as easy as possible to get vaccinated, Avula said.

“We want to absolutely make things as convenient as possible for anybody who wants to get vaccinated, to get vaccinated immediately,” Avula said in a call with reporters Friday afternoon. “We're asking providers to vaccinate anybody who shows up [at vaccination sites] regardless of residence.”

Residents as young as 12 will likely be approved to receive the Pfizer vaccine as soon as late May, and the Moderna vaccine will likely follow after that, Avula said. 

School divisions across the state will soon be working with the Virginia Department of Health to administer the vaccine in school based clinics before the end of the school year, he said.

Vaccine for younger children, those between the ages of 2 and 11, is not expected to be approved for emergency use until early 2022, Avula said.

Virginians are still being encouraged to pre-register for vaccine on the state’s website – vaccinate.virginia.gov – and to be proactive about finding and making an appointment through the websites vaccinefinder.org or vase.vdh.virginia.gov. Those who use the latter do not have to pre-register. They can just make an appointment.

Large vaccination centers around the state switched this week to taking some walk-ins along with people who pre-registered for vaccinations and had appointments.

That was true for both the “community vaccination center” at the old Gander Mountain store at the Potomac Mills mall, which began taking a limited number of walk-ins on Thursday. The Prince William Health District’s vaccine clinic in the Manassas Mall had open appointments almost every day this past week. 

At the Manassas Mall clinic, people are still asked to go to the “community outreach kiosk” in the mall to register for a vaccination time and receive a ticket, said Sean Johnson, a contractor working with the Prince William Health District.

The state is also working to direct more vaccine to primary care doctors and allowing them to keep doses on hand for longer than a week– which was the previous guidance – so they can administer it to patients over time.

Avula noted that people are more likely to trust their doctor’s advice when it comes to getting the vaccine. 

Prince William’s vaccination rate still behind

According to the Virginia Department of Health data, about 44.3% of the state’s total population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 30.6% are fully vaccinated. 

In Prince William County, vaccination rates are a little lower. Prince William is lagging behind the state and much of Northern Virginia with only about 41.1% of residents having received at least one dose and 26.9% of residents fully vaccinated.

Loudoun and Fairfax are both reporting that 46.8% of their residents have received one dose of the vaccine, while 28.1% and 29.8% are fully vaccinated, respectively.

Stafford and Spotsylvania counties are reporting even lower rates of vaccination than Prince William County, however. In Stafford County, about 34.8% of residents had had a first dose as of Friday, April 30, while the same was true for about 36.4% of Spotsylvania residents, according to VDH data.

Avula said Friday the state is working with college campuses to get students vaccinated before they leave for the summer – a goal that was delayed somewhat by the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In general, Virginians from age 16 through their 30s are lagging behind in getting their vaccine, likely because they aren’t convinced that they will suffer a severe case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus, Avula said. 

The problem, however, is that the state won’t reach herd immunity, which is estimated to occur when about 75% of the state’s residents are vaccinated, unless all age groups are widely vaccinated, Avula said.

“We need to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible so that we don't risk another surge in disease,” he added.  

Avula noted that in other states, the variants of COVID-19, which are 50% to 60% more transmissible, are spreading fastest among younger people, including those involved in youth sports and high school students.

“That’s concerning certainly in pockets of the community where we don't have really high vaccination rates. And what we have seen in other parts of the country is that while case rates are surging in that younger adult population, it is leading to an increase in hospitalization rates for 30- and 40-year-olds,” he said.

The good news is that new cases of COVID-19 fell by 30% across Virginia last week. Also, groups that were considered at risk of being more vaccine hesitant – including Blacks and Hispanics – have turned out to be less so in Virginia.

Avula noted that while Black residents’ vaccination rate is trailing by a few percentage points, Hispanic residents are getting vaccinated at a higher rate than their overall population. About 9% of the state’s residents are Hispanic, and they account for about 10% of the vaccinations administered so far, according to VDH.

The group that is proving to be the most vaccine hesitant are rural conservatives who identify as evangelical Christians. About 40% of that group are saying “they won’t get vaccinate at any point,” Avula said.

Efforts aimed at softening that resistance focus on carefully listening to residents’ concerns about the vaccine without judgment and employing trusted community members – doctors, pastors and teachers – to vouch for the effectiveness and the importance of the vaccine. “It will be hard, slow work,” Avula said.

“We got to 57% of the eligible population in four months. It's going to be really tough to chip away at that last 10 to 15%,” he added. “I think that’s probably going to take us another three to four months.”

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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