By Carol Vaughn —
The Eastern Shore Health District, along with Eastern Shore Rural Health System and Riverside, will begin giving COVID-19 vaccines to people identified as being in Phase 1B starting Wednesday, Jan. 13, according to a press release published Wednesday.
Gov. Ralph Northam in a briefing Thursday afternoon said Virginia also will start vaccinating those age 65 and over and people ages 16 to 64 with certain medical conditions or disabilities that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19 — groups which previously were identified as being in Phase 1C but which now will be in Phase 1B, according to Northam.
Northam’s announcement came after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave new guidance Tuesday afternoon that said states should immediately extend vaccinations to those two groups. The department announced $3 billion in additional funding to help states with vaccination efforts.
Phase 1B, in addition to the two groups Northam mentioned, includes police; fire and hazmat response personnel; those 75 or over, childcare/K-12 teachers and staff; those living and working in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps; food, agriculture and aquaculture workers; manufacturers; grocery store workers; public transit workers; and mail carriers (both U.S. Postal Service and private).
The first vaccination phase included frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents.
As of Jan. 13, 686 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Accomack County, with 44 people fully vaccinated in the county, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
In Northampton County, 270 doses had been administered, with 22 people fully vaccinated.
The actual numbers could be higher because healthcare providers report doses to the Virginia Immunization Information System up to 72 hours after they are given.
“We have nearly completed the first round of Phase 1A vaccinations. We will now be focusing on Phase 1B, prioritizing those at highest risk for negative health outcomes and members of our community with the highest risk of exposure,” said Jon Richardson, chief operating officer of the Eastern Shore Health District.
Many in this phase will get vaccinated through clinics where they work or live and do not need to seek out vaccine independently.
People age 65 and over or with high-risk medical conditions should contact their primary care provider to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated. If a person does not have a primary care doctor, Eastern Shore Rural Health System will give the person a vaccine.
ESRHS will start making vaccination appointments Wednesday, Jan. 13, and Riverside will start making appointments Thursday, Jan. 14.
Over the next several weeks, the health department will contact smaller and independent businesses and anyone not affiliated with a clinic at work or where they live to set up vaccination administration.
“For many weeks now, ESHD has been collaborating with our partners at Riverside and ESRHS to deliver vaccines to the Eastern Shore community. That work will continue as we strive to get vaccines administered as quickly and safely as possible. We anticipate it will take several weeks to work our way through vaccinating Phase1B individuals while simultaneously administering the second dose to 1A individuals,” the release stated.
People in one of the Phase 1B groups identified by type of employment should seek information from their employer for their vaccination plan.
Employers in the phase who do not yet have a vaccination plan in place for employees and who have not heard from the health department may call 757-787-5880 to coordinate a vaccination clinic for employees.
“Receiving the vaccine for COVID-19 does not mean life goes back to pre-pandemic times. It is still extremely important to wear a mask, social distance and practice good hand hygiene. Even after receiving the vaccine, it will remain important to continue masking, maintaining social distancing and avoiding crowded areas until we see case counts drop in the coming months and public health authorities indicate it is safe to relax protective measures,” the release said, adding, “We ask that you be patient with us as we work through the priority groups and get to each person who desires vaccination as soon as possible; we are devoting every available resource to this effort. We are aware of the announcement yesterday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and those recommendations are currently under review at the state level.”
For more information about Virginia’s Phase 1B COVID-19 vaccination efforts, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/
What Phase Am I?
The Virginia Department of Health has an online questionnaire to help people determine when they can get vaccinated.
The brief quiz can be taken by going to www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/ and clicking on the button that says “Find Out Which Phase You Are Eligible For.”
The direct link is https://vdh.jebbit.com/amkwk6m1?L=Owned+Web&JC=Vaccine
After answering seven questions, including about county of residence, age, occupation, and health conditions, the quiz ends with an opportunity to enter the person’s name, email, and a phone number that accepts text messages.
The information, if provided, will enable the health department to contact the person, once the state enters the appropriate phase, to verify vaccine eligibility and plan vaccine administration.
Filling out the form does not reserve a vaccine for the person.
The information will not be used for marketing purposes, according to the VDH.
The VDH website also now has an interactive map saying which vaccination phase localities are in. The link is www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/phase-by-health-district/
Shore Health Care Workers Vaccinated
Thirty of 50 employees at the Eastern Shore Health District who were offered the vaccine in Phase 1A took it, according to Richardson.
Richardson said there are still a few more employees scheduled to receive the vaccine. Most of those who have received it just received their first dose at the end of last week because many health department staff were considered lower priority in Phase 1A than other frontline health care workers.
Among Eastern Shore Rural Health employees, 61% offered vaccination were vaccinated, based on available data, according to spokesperson Amy Bull.
Additionally, 6% have received their second dose to become fully vaccinated as of Jan. 13.
Dr. Michael Dacey, president and chief operating officer of Riverside Health System, said when Riverside employees were surveyed last fall, results showed 30% were willing to be vaccinated when a vaccine became available; 35% said they were undecided and 35% were unwilling to take the vaccine at that time.
In a follow-up survey after safety and efficacy information for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was released, around 60% of Riverside employees said they would get vaccinated, “and we are nearing that percentage now,” Dacey said in a Jan. 12 email.
Among Eastern Shore Riverside employees, the percentage is significantly higher.
John Peterman, Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital president, said Wednesday that by Friday Riverside will have vaccinated 85% of its Eastern Shore employees.
“The vaccination effort is going very well at Riverside,” Dacey said, noting the health system has distributed almost 9,000 doses to health care workers both within and outside the Riverside system.
“Most of those are first doses with second doses starting last week,” he said.
Riverside has distributed around 75% of the doses provided it by the state, “which is more than double the national average,” Dacey said.
“Riverside is eager to move forward with our vaccination efforts and we are moving quickly to vaccinate those more vulnerable populations within our patient panels, especially the elderly,” he said.
Do I Need an Email Address to Register for a Vaccine?
Some Shore residents who in the first phase went through the registration process in order to be scheduled to receive a vaccine encountered the issue of needing to have an email address, to which the registration portal link is sent.
Acknowledging the email requirement is not workable for some Shore residents, Richardson said Tuesday, “Several weeks ago, when we were shown the registration system VDH planned to use for our vaccinations, we immediately recognized the email requirement as a deficiency and knew it would not be workable for many of our population. We have developed a ‘workaround’ for this as the state works to procure and release a new registration system for us to use.”
How Can I Help?
Richardson said people interested in helping with the vaccination effort can do so through the Medical Reserve Corps “and we appreciate and welcome that.”
The local health department has not had to use many volunteers since they assisted during outbreaks on the Eastern Shore in April and May, but anticipates using volunteer help again “as we get to vaccinating larger groups of people,” Richardson said.
More than 5,000 Virginians have joined the MRC since March.
Each of 22 local Medical Reserve Corps units across Virginia is made up of teams of medical and public health professionals who, along with interested non-medical community members, volunteer their skills, expertise, and time to support public health initiatives and health emergencies.
The corps was established in 2002 as a national network of volunteers in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Units need both medical and non-medical volunteers.
Since March, 863 volunteers in Virginia have answered calls from community members and health professionals in public health call centers, volunteering more than 18,000 hours with a value of $249,000, according to the VDH.
Additionally, 1,375 volunteers provided support for 170 COVID-19 testing events in Virginia in May and June, and 497 volunteers have served as contact tracers, providing nearly 15,000 hours of support with a monetary value of $406,100.
MRC volunteers receive an orientation and, if required, additional free training.
Information about volunteering is at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/mrc/covid-19volunteer/