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Prince William Health District to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all on Sunday

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As of tomorrow, Sunday, April 18, the Prince William Health District will move into phase 2 for COVID-19 vaccinations, meaning anyone over 16 who wants to be vaccinated can make an appointment. But getting one could take days or weeks, officials said Friday.

Already, more than 100 localities in Virginia have opened vaccine to the general public. In Northern Virginia, those localities include the City of Alexandria and Fauquier, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties – all of which entered phase 2 in recent days or weeks.

Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties – and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park -- will join them on Sunday, which is the deadline Gov. Ralph Northam set for opening the vaccine to the general public. President Joe Biden set a deadline of Monday, April 19, to open vaccine to all Americans 16 and up. The vaccine has not yet been approved for those under 16.

The move comes as Virginia’s vaccination effort hit a new milestone Friday: About one-half of the state’s adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, Northam said in a statement.

Virginia is now administering an average of more than 77,000 doses a day, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many parts of Virginia and across the country, it is important that everyone has an opportunity to make a vaccination appointment,” Northam said Friday. “If you are over 16 and want to get the safe, effective, and free vaccine, please make a plan to get your shot. The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”

For Virginia residents, the main change is that anyone 16 or over can go online or call Virginia’s vaccination hotline (877-VAX-IN-VA, or 877-829-4682) to make an appointment at one of the health department clinics. Appointments will also be available at several local pharmacies. All available appointments can be accessed through the national website www.vaccinefinder.org.

With demand still high in Northern Virginia, vaccine appointments might not be easy to get, however, at least at first, health district officials say.

Those in phase 2 “may have to wait possibly days to weeks” for an available appointment, Kathy Stewart, spokesperson for the Prince William Health District, said in a Friday press release.

“Right now, there is a high demand for vaccinations in the Northern Virginia area,” Stewart wrote.

The Prince William Health District is expected to receive about 12,000 doses of the vaccine this coming week, according to Brian Misner, Prince William County’s director of Emergency Management. The doses are a mix of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains on hold amid an investigation into its possible tie to blood clotting.

The allotment is smaller than the Prince William Health District has received in recent weeks, but health district officials declined to say by exactly how much. Sean Johnson, a contractor working with the local health district, said getting people registered for the shots is more critical than the exact number of doses coming into the county each week.

“We are struggling to get people to pre-register and take available appointments,” Johnson said in an email.  “There are more and more pharmacies coming on board, … and at least for this week and next, vaccines are not the issue. … It’s getting people to sign up and take an appointment.” 

As Johnson said, all residents are still being advised to pre-register for vaccine on the state’s website – vaccinate.virginia.gov – because those who qualify for any of the phase 1 groups will still be prioritized for the vaccine.

Phase 1 includes anyone over the age of 65, anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions and a long list of occupations that place people at a greater risk of infection.

A detailed list of who is included in the different phases is here. Those in phase 1 who are unable to find an appointment in Vaccine Finder, should register (if [they have] not already registered) at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA for [an] appointment,” Stewart said in a press release.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. Vaccine Finder shows which vaccine is available at the various pharmacies. The website allows people to search for appointments by ZIP Code. 

“Look for vaccine providers that have the words ‘in stock’ and not ‘out of stock.’ Also, it will tell you if Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available. The Prince William Health District is expected to be on Vaccine Finder on Sunday,” Stewart said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that 16- and 17-year-olds can receive the Moderna vaccine. The story has been updated to note that it is the Pfizer vaccine -- not the Moderna vaccine -- that has been approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. PWT regrets the error.

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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