ETTRICK, Va. -- Virginia is inching toward 50% of the population receiving at least one COVID-19 shot. With demand dropping and supply increasing, the moment marks a shift in how health leaders are administering the vaccine and trying to reach those who still have not gotten it.
Virginia officials said the slip in demand in the Commonwealth fits with trends across the country since those who wanted the vaccine immediately likely already got it. The plan to reach those who remain skeptical involves taking the vaccine into communities, eliminating travel for recipients and encouraging the immunized to share their story.
Tuesday was dubbed “It’s Our Shot, Virginia Statewide Day of Action.”
At the Community Vaccination Clinic at Virginia State University in Ettrick, Salah Mahmoud got his first dose. The 17-year-old only became eligible a few weeks ago but said he didn’t want to wait any longer since the pandemic wiped out most of his junior and senior years of high school.
“There wasn’t even a wait. For me, if there’s no wait, that’s just easy enough,” Mahmoud said, before recounting what the past year has been like. “I just kind of had to stay at home. You’re going out, you’re constantly worrying. So having this vaccine, it’s just a good starting point.”
Getting the vaccine to younger Virginians and those who remain reticent is now the focus of the state’s vaccination efforts, according to Traci DeShazor, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth. She said large-scale vaccination clinics, like the one at VSU, are in their final weeks, and health officials are focusing on mobile or community-based events at places such as faith centers and grocery stores.
“A good example of this is something that we’ve done in Prince William County, where we held a vaccination clinic at a supermarket,” DeShazor said, adding workers administered nearly 500 doses that day.
Another major component moving forward is the word of individual Virginians who have received a COVID-19 shot. Research suggests that those who are hesitant respond much better when they speak with people they know and trust, not elected leaders.
“We’re up to the challenge, but we can’t do it alone. So that’s why events like today are so important. Again, calling on Virginians to come together as a community to have those conversations with their friends, family members, and neighbors,” DeShazor said.
When engaging in a conversation with someone about vaccine hesitancy, DeShazor said it is very important to approach the dialogue with openness and understanding, not judgment.
“We shouldn’t group everyone together to say, ‘oh you don’t have the facts or the information,’ because that’s not necessarily the case,” she said. “There’s a lot of information out there; there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So, if you’re considering having that conversation with a friend or a family member or a neighbor. First, start just by listening. Actually, ask them what are your concerns? what are your hesitancies? Do you have transportation to get there?”
In sharing your personal experience with receiving the shot, DeShazor said it is best to open about what happened, even if you were hit hard by the side effects.
“I was vaccinated with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. I share that I did have some side effects, but I share that very transparently, and I’m doing very well now. I do not regret my decision,” DeShazor said.
For his part, Mahmoud said most of his close friends and family either already received a vaccine or plan to do so soon. Still, the 17-year-old is more than willing to share his experience with others.
“Oh, I definitely will encourage them to take the vaccine,” he said. “When people tell you to do something, it’s different than when you are going through it because you have your view on it. So now, I can just go tell people, ‘Oh, I did this, this is how it went, and you guys should take it.’”
For resources and a list of vaccination sites, including local pharmacies and doctors' offices that offer walk-up vaccination, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA. Community Vaccination Centers are also offering walk-ups for those eligible.