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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- When we first met Kathy Heath last week, she was upset because her parents, who are in their late 70s with underlying health conditions, could not get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment with the Chesterfield Health District.
Since then, "my parents drove down to eastern North Carolina and got their vaccine on Wednesday," Heath said.
But, Heath's passion for understanding Virginia's slow vaccine rollout continued.
"I've actually been going to the dashboard everyday just to track progress and see how things are going in the Richmond area and across the state," Heath said.
And, on Thursday, she discovered something interesting: Excel spreadsheets on the Virginia Department of Health's vaccine dashboard that appeared to show exactly who received all the vaccine doses distributed to date.
"Chesterfield seemed to not be getting, on a per capita basis, as many vaccines sent to the health district," Heath said.
We took a look at the data ourselves, and found between Dec. 13 and this week, the Chesterfield Health District received 7,025 doses, the Henrico Health District received 8,700 doses, and the Richmond Health District received 10,850 doses.
But, the Chesterfield Health District, which includes Powhatan and Colonial Heights, has the largest number of people living inside of it.
Richmond has the smallest population.
"That just really worried me that somehow Chesterfield had been left short, and it didn't feel good," Heath, who lives in Midlothian, said.
Heath surmised that might have something to do with the fact that all the doses sent to the HCA Health System in Virginia went through Chesterfield.
"It made me wonder if such a large hospital system getting such a large number of vaccines, but then redistributing those to other locations has hurt Chesterfield's ability as a health district to access the vaccines the rest of us need," Heath said.
Dr. Danny Avula, the Governor's vaccine czar, and the head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said he is investigating, but agreed that might be the case.
Under Avula, the state has now switched to a population-based distribution system, so each health district will receive an amount of vaccine proportionate to their population.
"If they want to be super transparent, they can show us what is coming out on a week to week basis in every district," Heath said.
We asked the Virginia Department of Health about the numbers, and a spokesperson told us they could not confirm the information in the spreadsheets is complete.
They also said a server issue led to datasets becoming public that were not intended to be public yet.
The VDH spokesperson said the data has been removed from the website, so the agency can better format it for viewing, and they will re-release it when it's ready.
To Kathy Heath, the data issue is just another example of a mismanaged vaccine rollout.
"There is no excuse why there wasn't a plan, and why there wasn't a plan to share the data," Heath said.
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.