Frustration grows as Virginia's vaccine rollout continues to lag behind

"All we hear is be patient. We're losing patience."
Richmond Raceway vaccine clinic
Posted at 7:01 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 06:24:39-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- From Henrico up to Stafford, Virginia residents over the age of 75 keep reaching out to CBS 6, upset about why they still cannot get a COVID-19 vaccine or even an appointment.

"The sense of immediacy doesn't seem to be there for our age bracket right now," Ted Hoagland, who lives in Henrico, said.

"All we hear is be patient," Hoagland said. "We're losing patience because we are very concerned about our demographic and our health."

After all, COVID mortality data from the Virginia Department of Health shows the vast majority of people who have died from complications related to the virus in Virginia are over the age of 70.

The numbers are particularly frightening for Daniel Jasman, who along with his wife, cares for a disabled adult son.

"If one or either one of us gets this virus, the other person is in trouble because it takes a team to care for him," Jasman, who lives north of Fredericksburg said.

Jasman and Hoagland have both tried to make appointments to get the vaccine, but have yet to secure one.

"When you think you have a registration locked in, and it's canceled three times, it becomes very frustrating," Hoagland said.

They both wonder why Governor Ralph Northam opened up the vaccination pool to those 65 and older a couple of weeks ago, when it's already hard for people over age 75 to get the shot.

"It didn't make sense," Hoagland said.

Just as when the pandemic began when CBS 6 reported Virginia trailed most other states when it came to testing, the state once again sits near the bottom as it pertains to administering the vaccine doses it has.

As of January 25, only Kansas ranked lower than the Commonwealth when it came to percentage of shots used.

"We're way down the list as far as how we're managing this. I don't understand it," Hoagland said.

As of Tuesday, Virginia had moved up to number 38 in percentage of shots used, and a spokeswoman for Governor Ralph Northam's office, Alena Yarmosky, said the state has resolved some of its data issues over the past 48 hours with regards to keeping track of vaccinations.

Still, the Governor's new vaccine czar, Dr. Danny Avula, said there is work to be done.

"We know that where Virginia is right now is not acceptable," Avula said.

Avula, the head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, was appointed by the Governor two weeks ago to oversee vaccine distribution in the Commonwealth.

Daniel Jasman said the move came too late.

"I saw a reactionary deal by the Governor. He gets on there and says I'm going to appoint somebody to get this done. Why hadn't they had that planning done ahead of time?" Jasman asked.

"Do you ever wish you had been brought into this sooner?" CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked Dr. Avula.

"I think it's always helpful to have the connection of what happens at central office and what happens in actual implementation on the ground," Avula replied. "If we had thought to make sure we were connecting those dots earlier on, I think that would have been helpful, so we're doing a better job of that now."

Avula said approximately 300,000 of the roughly 587,000 doses that have not been administered yet are second doses, and another 50,000-60,000 of them have actually been administered but not entered into the system due to data errors.

Of the remaining 227,000 doses, he said a large number of those are reserved for long term care facilities through a federal partnership with Walgreens and CVS.

"It's not just a bunch of vaccines sitting on a shelf, but they are vaccines accounted for for specific populations," Avula said.

Avula's health districts are now prioritizing vaccination appointments by age, so those 75 and older will be vaccinated before anyone younger, and they're reserving 50% of vaccines for seniors.

"Is that something you will implement statewide or just within your health district?" Hipolit asked Avula.

"We do need to provide more direction and more standardization across the Commonwealth, and so the team has made some recommendations, and I expect very shortly more further guidance around how the vaccine is allocated and who is prioritized," Avula replied. "The elderly are definitely a priority for us and we will continue to move in that direction."

Yarmosky said the Governor opted to open up eligibility to people 65 and over because the CDC issued that exact guidance on January 13. She said Virginia has made immense progress in addressing vaccine challenges, and the Governor will provide updates on next steps at his press conference on Wednesday.