Beacon Hall at George Mason University campus

Beacon Hall at George Mason University campus will be the site where the Prince William Health District will administer COVID-19 vaccines starting on Jan. 19.

The Prince William Health District estimates that more than 109,000 local residents are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine after the county, Manassas and Manassas Park moved into the second phase of vaccinations on Monday. 

The Prince William Health District, local hospitals, a few clinics and teams from CVS and Walgreens have been vaccinating health care workers, EMTs and nursing home residents and staff since Dec. 28. The health district began vaccinating police officers – a group at the top of the 1b group – on Monday, health district Director Dr. Alison Ansher told the Manassas City Council on Monday night.

The health district is now reaching out to people age 75 and older as well all others in the 1b group to begin scheduling appointments for shots. The health district will begin administering shots on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at George Mason University's Beacon Hall, a dormitory and academic building located across the street from the Hylton Performing Arts center on the Manassas campus, according to Colby Grant, of GMU. 

Ansher called the number of residents now eligible for vaccinations “overwhelming” and noted that the health district has limited staff and nurses to administer and oversee vaccinations. But the health district is hiring more and expects school nurses and medical reserve corps volunteers to help as vaccinations ramp up in the coming days and weeks.

Ansher noted the health district is only administering some of the shots. Local hospitals, Kaiser health care and the Greater Prince William Health Center are vaccinating their own employees, and CVS and Walgreens are coordinating shots for staff and residents of local long-term care facilities and group homes, she said.

Ansher acknowledged the health district got off to a “slow start.” The first vaccines were expected on Dec. 21 but didn’t arrive Dec. 23. Because of the Christmas holiday, vaccinations did not begin to be administered locally until Dec. 28. 

As of Monday, Jan. 11, the health district had received a total of 10,000 vaccinations, Ansher said, but it’s not clear how many shots have yet been administered.

On Saturday, Jan. 9, the health district moved its vaccinations from a Prince William County facility to Metz Middle School in Manassas and is currently vaccinating 400 people per day, Ansher said. 

The move to GMU on Jan. 19 will allow for up to 600 vaccinations per day, she said.

Teachers, school staff to begin vaccinations Jan. 28

Regarding public school teachers and staff, Ansher said “one of the regional hospitals” has agreed to help vaccinate school staff members, but did not specify which one. Vaccinations for that group are expected to begin on Thursday, Jan. 28 and extend through February, she said.

Superintendent Steven Walts said during the Jan. 6 school board meeting that the school division had offered the Edward L. Kelly Leadership Center as a site for school division vaccinations. But Ansher did not say during the Manassas City Council meeting where the school division vaccinations would take place.

She said school staff would be a priority, however, as part of the effort to return students to schools as soon as possible. 

Prince William County schools will have pre-K through third grade students in school buildings this week, while Manassas and Manassas Park are still educating the vast majority of their students virtually. 

“We felt it was important to vaccinate the teachers to hopefully make them feel more comfortable while we open schools,” Ansher said. She noted, however, that schools would have to maintain mask-wearing and social distancing protocols even after the vaccinations are administered “until we know how effective the vaccine is and how long the protection lasts.”

The vaccine has not yet been approved for children under the age of 16.

Ansher said some of the people who have so far been offered the vaccine have not accepted it, although she said she expects that to change.

“We're finding actually only about half the people offered so far have accepted vaccination, other than the long-term care facility residents,” Ansher said. “As time goes on, I suspect many of those people will just see how it goes ,and if things go well, they'll probably want to be vaccinated.”

What to do now: Register and wait for an email

Residents age 75 and older are asked to fill out a brief online survey to assist the health district in contacting them, Ansher said.

The health district has begun creating a list of all those who want to be vaccinated in an electronic scheduling system. Health district staff will then send emails to individuals to instruct them how to make an appointment for a vaccination, Ansher said. 

Officials are actively working with local emergency management partners to ensure that those who do not have access to email can schedule appointments as well, Ansher said.

Health care workers who have not yet been vaccinated and frontline essential workers who are part of group 1b will be registered for vaccinations in coordination with their employers, Ansher said.

The health district will contact employers to ask them to provide a list of employees' names and email addresses. Those lists will be uploaded in an electronic scheduling system, and employees will be contacted by the health department via an email to schedule an appointment, Ansher said.

While the health district is moving into vaccinating group 1b, “the vaccination effort is heavily reliant on the Virginia Department of Health receiving enough vaccine from the federal government,” according to a health department press release also issued Monday.

After the health district moves through groups 1a and 1b, it will move onto group 1c.

That group includes people between the ages of 65 and 74 as well as essential workers whose jobs require somewhat less interaction with the public, such as utility workers, construction workers, food service workers, transportation and logistics, finance workers, legal workers and the media.

Finally, when there is enough vaccine available, the state will move onto group 2, which includes the general public. There’s been no mention yet, however, on exactly when that might occur, although experts predict it likely will be well into the summer or early fall.

At that point, Ansher said, it is expected that people will receive the shots from their health care providers or pharmacies, like they do flu shots.

“As we know, people tend to trust their health care provider for information and care and hopefully there will be enough vaccine that anyone who wants to be vaccinated, will be vaccinated.”

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a version of this story incorrectly reported that the vaccines would be administered at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. The vaccines will be given at Beacon Hall, a building across from the Hylton Performing Arts Center. The Prince William Times regrets the error.

Reach Daniel Berti at dberti@fauquier.com

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