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Virginia to open COVID-19 vaccine program to people 65+

Posted at 5:18 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 13:30:12-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam will announce in his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night that Virginia will "quickly" move forward with opening up COVID-19 vaccinations to people 65 and older.

Northam's office released excerpts of his speech that he will deliver at 7 p.m.

A portion of what was released covered Tuesday's announcement from the federal government that it would no longer hold onto vials of the vaccine intended for second doses and that it recommended states offer the vaccine to people 65 and older, plus those under 65 who have a documented COVID-19 co-morbidity.

"Just last week, I called on our federal partners to release all the doses they have. I am pleased that the incoming Biden administration has agreed to do that, and the outgoing administration has agreed as well," the excerpt from Northam's speech read. "Also yesterday, they authorized states to go ahead and start vaccinating people age 65 and up. We’ll be moving forward with that quickly—I’ll be talking to local health directors and hospitals tomorrow about how we make this happen."

In Virginia, people in the 65 and older category and those under that age with COVID-19 co-morbidities fall under Phase 1c of its vaccine rollout plan.

Currently, only 11 health districts are in Phase 1b, while the rest remain in Phase 1a.

However, the health districts covering the metro Richmond-area announced they would be moving into Phase 1b starting Monday.

The four health districts involved in the move are Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, and Chickahominy (which covers the counties of New Kent, Goochland, Hanover, and Charles City).

During a virtual news conference, Dr. Melissa Viray with the Richmond Health District said because of a limited supply of the vaccine, the first stage of Phase 1B would only be open to a portion of that group.

"Police, fire, and hazmat. Then it goes to corrections and homeless shelter facilities staff, then it goes to childcare and K-12 teachers," said Viray. "We really want to make sure your public-facing, your front-facing, and your student-facing individuals are the ones we get to first. These are the folks at higher risk for exposure to COVID-19…The folks who are teleworking, the folks…who are able to fully do their duties remotely are not necessarily as high priority as those who don't have a choice."

Viray said they would also offer the vaccine to correct facility and homeless shelter residents and people aged 75 and older.

"We're going to be doing this through a combination of large regional events and pharmacy agreements, provider agreements, different providers in the pharmacy, different practices in the community and at our local health district sites," added Viray.

She said the four health districts would hold three mass vaccination events at the Richmond Raceway next week. She added the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts were planning an additional four events for just those two districts.

Chesterfield Health District's Director Dr. Alexander Samuel said, in addition to the mass vaccination events, his district is working to "provide vaccinations to eligible employees who fir the specific categories listed".

A spokesperson for the Chickahominy Health District their plans "are to partner with all four jurisdictions in our district to establish additional vaccination opportunities. We are working together as part of the Richmond area to provide mass vaccination clinics for 1B priority group members. We are excited to expand the number of venues and opportunities for this phase to get vaccinated."

"We're anticipating maybe 8,000 additional vaccinations in the coming week," said Viray. "We are working with employers like school systems, the police departments to get these employees, these frontline folks registered for these events. So, we ask that if you don't have an appointment to not go to a location until we've set you up for an appointment."

Viray said the mass vaccination events are geared for those in the first responder and school/day care settings and they are finalizing details for how they will reach the other groups. She said those details should be released before Monday.

Viray added for the workforce vaccinations, they would be offered to people who work in the four Central Virginia health districts, even if they live outside of it.

Viray said if you qualify for this first round of Phase 1B and want to make sure you are contacted for opportunities to get the vaccine, the Richmond Health District's website has an interest form that you can fill out and provide your contact information.

A spokesperson for the Chesterfield Health District says people in that district who qualify can call their call center at 804-318-8207 and get added to the 1B waiting list. They ask people be patient as CHD is experiencing high call volumes.

The Virginia Department of Health also has an online tool where people can find out when they qualify for the vaccine and provide their contact information to be contacted when there is an opportunity.