Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Northam says every resident who wants a vaccine can get one by the end of May

More than 5 million shots have been given out in Virginia so far

- BY SABRINA MORENO

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 the 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.”

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 that 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 with 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, the 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, Virginia could hit a wall in May and June when supply is expected to no longer be tight, said Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinato­r.

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 that could 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 available 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.

At 3 p.m. Friday, the last update was nine 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.

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