RICHMOND, Va. -- While most health districts in the Richmond region were already in the final phase of Virginia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the move is now uniform across the state, as of Sunday.
Phase 2 of vaccinations means any adult who wants a vaccine, no matter their job, can schedule an appointment on their own without having to join a wait list.
Another big change is children 16 and 17 years old are eligible for a Pfizer shot. A parent or guardian must give consent and be with the
teen on site as they receive the vaccine.
That's exactly what Brittany Rose plans to do this week with her daughter, Abigail.
"She wanted a COVID shot for her birthday," Rose said with a laugh. “It was really fortuitous timing.”
Abigail is preparing to celebrate with a shot into the arm. She turns 16 years old the very week Virginia expanded vaccine eligibility.
Rose said getting the vaccine was her daughter's decision, but she supports the choice.
“Knowing that this gives her an extra level of protection, as a parent, I’m just so relieved," Rose explained.
The Henrico mother already booked Abigail's appointment, preparing her for a pivotal moment as she inches toward adulthood.
“She’s applying for some jobs for the rest of the school year and for the summer, and I feel much more comfortable with that knowing she’ll be vaccinated," Rose said.
However, the search for a shot proved to be a challenge for Rose.
"We can be scheduling appointments for our kids to get vaccines through some of the large pharmacies, but not all of those pharmacies will vaccinate 16 and 17-year-olds," Rose explained. “You really have to dig into the details to see, will this particular pharmacy actually vaccinate my child? Or do they have to be 18?”
RELATED: Register for the COVID-19 vaccine on the Vaccinate Virginia website or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343). You can also search for specific vaccines as well as which ones are available near you via the Vaccine Finder website.
Virginia's vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula said he has heard of similar concerns recently, and state health leaders are working to address inconsistencies.
"Some of the application of the new policies has been variable from different providers," Dr. Avula explained. "So I think one of the things we'll look at this week is ensuring that all of our providers understand that if they're offering Pfizer, they do that down to age 16."
Avula said he believes more opportunities will expand for the younger age group as Phase 2 continues.
He also believes the age requirement could drop down to just 12-years-old soon, as Pfizer awaits an emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“We weren’t anticipating that until October, but now with new data, we could see that happening as early as late May or June,” Avula said.
As far as where teens can get vaccinated, Avula mentioned vaccinations may start happening at their schools in the near future.
"We also have been in conversation with a number of school systems around the state. Schools are eligible to become approved CDC vaccination sites," Avula explained.
He added a number of schools will likely use their own staff to vaccinate students on site or partner with a pharmacy or health department.
Meanwhile, Brittany Rose encourages other parents to follow her lead and vaccinate their children.
“It’s not only helping to protect them, it's protecting your family, it's protecting older family members, it's protecting the community, it's protecting their peers," Rose said.
Anyone interested in getting the vaccine should check vaccinate.virginia.gov for available appointments. If nothing is available right away, Avula suggests checking back in a few days.
He wants to emphasize that the state has enough supply to vaccinate all eligible and interested individuals by the end of May.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.