RICHMOND, Va. -- All Virginians age 16 and older will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Sunday as the Commonwealth shifts to Phase 2.
Virginia's vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, said during a telebriefing Friday that the state is “really making some great progress” when it comes to vaccinations.
More than 5.2 million vaccines have been administered so far in Virginia and nearly 40% of the state’s population had received at least one dose as of Saturday.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced on April 1 that all Virginians age 16-plus would be eligible to get the vaccine starting April 18 since he said nearly everyone in the highest-risk groups who has preregistered for a vaccination appointment has received one.
“Everybody who wants to get vaccinated should be able to get at least their first dose by the end of May,” Avula said.
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.
While Phase 2 expands the pool of who can sign up, it also brings along a few minor process changes.
“Vaccine Finder will list all of the outlets in your area that have vaccine and are offering appointments,” Avula explained. “You can go in and schedule online your own appointment. If you don’t have internet access, or don’t feel comfortable navigating those sites, we are expanding our call center. We’ve added another 250 agents.”
Officials with the Crater Health District, which is one of the last health departments in Virginia to move to Phase 2, said they are working to ensure that only those who live in the Crater district get appointments there to start.
“We’re prepared and planning for that,” Crater Health District COO Jay Baxtr said. “We know that this 18 to 64 is going to open it up for everybody. They’re going to be willing to travel and go wherever they can get a vaccine as quick as possible, so we’re going to start out still retaining our pre-registration operation that we have. It seems to be working.”
Crater serves Petersburg, Hopewell and Emporia and well as the counties of Prince George, Dinwiddie, Surry, Sussex and Greensville.
Officials expect demand to vary statewide, but do not want Virginians to get discouraged if appointments fill up quickly at first especially in populous parts of the Commonwealth, like the metro Richmond region.
“If you go to Vaccine Finder and don’t see any appointments, just come back and check in two or three days,” Avula advised. “We will progressively open up appointments as they fill up and more allocation comes in.”
The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for people 16 and older, so for the first time 16 and 17 year olds will be eligible.
Officials said there will be precautions in place to ensure Virginians that age only sign up for Pfizer events.
“We will need to vaccinate a lot of children to get to the 75% of overall Virginians vaccinated to get to that herd immunity goal,” Avula said. “I think these efforts to vaccinate will continue in the coming months.”
Baxtr urged Virginians to get vaccinated.
“It’s very, very important,” he said. “The only way we’re going to continue to move forward and move into a sense of normalcy, something like we’re used to.”
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.