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Vaccine eligibility likely won't expand until March in Richmond and Henrico

Posted at 10:21 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 22:21:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As COVID-19 vaccine supply remains an issue, the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts officials said Monday they do not anticipate expanding the current eligibility until March.

"Vaccine supply this week -- we are expecting an additional 6,300 doses," said RHHD Nurse Manager Amy Popovich during a virtual news briefing on Monday. "The total population of Richmond Henrico Health District is about 560,000. So, 6,300 doses is 1.1% of our total population…1A and 1B make up about 50% of our population. It's just a drops in the bucket the amount of vaccine we're given."

Currently, RHHD has made the vaccine available to Phases 1A and portions of 1B (those over 65, the first three groups of essential workers, and those living in congregate settings). Popovich said while they are not expanding to the remainder of 1B, they are planning for when that time comes -- including offering a pre-registration option for some of those who will soon qualify.

"We've been hearing from our community about how there's not a form for underlying conditions or a disability," said Popovich. "And while we can't offer the vaccinations, yet, we understand that people want a form and want a way to start being pre-registered. And we hear you are going to launch a form with those conditions by next Monday."

Popovich added that on Wednesday, RHHD would start posting demographic data on its website of those who have received the vaccine and was working to collect the information that was missing from those who have already received the vaccine.

"The more data we have, the more understanding of who's in our community and how old they are, their race or demographics -- the better we are able to ensure that the most vulnerable is receiving the vaccine," said Popovich.

And while the vaccine supply issue remains, health officials expressed optimism that another vaccine could soon be approved as Johnson & Johnson has requested emergency use authorization from the FDA and has a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.

"I think is really going to be a sight for sore eyes because I think it would allow us to make certain that we vaccinate many more people," said Dr. Robert Winn, Director of VCU's Massey Cancer Center. He added that vaccine has benefits over the ones developed by Pfizer and Moderna in that it is only a single dose and is easier to store. "From a public health sort of perspective it is, I think, going to be a welcome tool in our kit."

And even though the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has reported lower efficacy rates against the virus, Winn said there should be no concerns of who gets which vaccine.

"It's effective…The basic problem is that people don't really understand that we were, at the beginning of this in March and April, hoping that we would have the Moderna, Pfizer vaccine be even at 70," said Winn. "There's this perception, and we are trying to nip that in the bud and get ahead of that, particularly within our African-American, at-risk populations -- rural, Latino, Latinx, African-Americans -- that somehow by getting the Johnson & Johnson, for example, which we know has a little lower efficacy than obviously the Pfizer and Moderna. But, the reality is it's effective."

"The vaccines are all very good. And it's all about decreasing the amount of hospitalizations and deaths and severe COVID responses. And so, for all of the vaccines have not had any incidences of those severe COVID reactions or deaths. So, 60%, 70%, 90% is all really good," added Popovich. "The take home message is it's not about specific percentages, the message is vaccines are the best defense we have against COVID."