RICHMOND, Va. -- From the moment Governor Ralph Northam brought in Dr. Danny Avula to run Virginia's vaccine distribution, Avula has stressed making the process fair and equitable, but on Tuesday morning, his efforts were no match for a disjointed vaccine rollout involving the federal government and states.
"Does this feel like a slap in the face to the process you have designed here in Virginia?" CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked him.
"Yeah, you know I think an internet-based system does not give equitable access to our population. I think we're not the only ones who think this. I was on a call with governors across the country and multiple states expressed that same frustration," Avula said.
When Avula found out last week via a press release that CVS would be distributing 26,000 doses of the COVID vaccine in
Virginia a week, he said his staff immediately reached out to CVS to make sure their sign up process would integrate with what he had already created here in Virginia.
He wanted to give the hundreds of thousands of people who pre-registered at their local health departments priority to get appointments.
"Wanting to honor the fact that so many people had pre-registered and had been waiting for weeks," Avula said.
He said the state begged CVS to come up with a technological solution to make that happen, something like a password protected website, or early access for people who had pre-registered.
"The sense that we got in multiple conversations was making those kinds of coding or technological changes was just not an option," Avula said.
And, yet, Avula said he held out hope until Monday night, which is when things got confusing for the public.
CVS sent out a press release at around 7:30 that night telling people vaccine registration was getting pushed back from Tuesday to Thursday.
Avula said the state was not informed about the release.
Then, early Tuesday morning, CVS did open up the site for anyone to register, which upset a lot of people who opted not to try to sign up because CVS said Monday night registration has been delayed.
All appointments were booked within hours.
"Did you ever consider speaking to the public ahead of this and letting them know, 'Hey, we really want to do this equitably?' Like we've been trying to do through our local districts, but this is a federal program and CVS just doesn't have the technology to do that?" Hipolit asked Avula.
"What we were trying to do, and what I communicated with the public was, 'Hey, we are working every angle we can to figure out how CVS can work in our construct, how CVS can honor the process we've created.' And I think I was still hopeful we would work something out until late [Monday] night," Avula replied
CVS ultimately opened up their site Tuesday morning in an effort to give folks who had pre-registered with their health districts an opportunity to sign up first, but the plan essentially backfired because they could not limit who signed up.
"People pressed yes regardless of if they were 65 or older, or if they were on a pre-registration list," Avula said.
That left people like Megan Brockwell, a COVID longhauler who is still experiencing symptoms of the virus months after surviving it, left out.
"It's so frustrating, for people like me, I am a rule monger, I listen to the rules, and I try to follow the rules, and it seems like everybody else who doesn't follow the rules gets ahead," Brockwell said.
Moving forward, Avula hopes the federal government will take states' processes into consideration more when dispensing vaccines.
"We need to have more ability to incorporate the federal allocation into our state plans," Avula 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.