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Richmond Officials Preparing For COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out

Man with doctors
Henrico County resident Jamie Gaiters being tested for coronavirus near Creighton Court on Tuesday. (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM News)

Richmond health officials released new information Thursday about how they’re preparing to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine, which could be available in limited doses in as soon as a few weeks. 

At a weekly pandemic update, Richmond Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula said there are about 60,000 people in Central Virginia who will have first priority for getting the vaccine. They are mainly health care workers and nursing home residents. Governor Ralph Northam said on Wednesday that Virginia as a whole is only expected to get enough doses for 70,000 people in its initial shipment.

Avula said, at least initially, there’s going to be a big gap between capacity and the number of people on the priority list.

“Some of that gap will be addressed by the reality that not everyone is ready to get vaccinated,” he said. “We’re probably going to see about 50 to 60% uptake. We also know there are logistical realities in terms of the way the vaccine is stored.”

Avula said it’s likely to be “far beyond December” before all healthcare workers and nursing home residents in Central Virginia receive a COVID-19 vaccine.Those initial doses will go directly to hospital systems and big-box pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens who are contracting with nursing homes.

Once the general public has access - likely not until summer 2021 - Avula said the health district plans to hold mass vaccination events.

“Everything that we’ve done in terms of COVID testing and mass flu vaccination have been learning opportunities for how we’re going to roll out mass COVID vaccination,” Avula said. “We’ve had long-term plans with the school system and other buildings around the city and county to be potential sites for vaccination.”

While distribution ramps up, the Richmond Health District is reaching out to communities most likely to be skeptical of the vaccines safety and effectiveness. Recent polling from the Pew Research Center shows Black Americans are more hesitant to trust medical professionals and get vaccinated.

Avula said these negative perceptions are especially concerning given that Black and Hispanic communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“We have started focus groups with residents of lower income communities to really just hear what are the concerns and what would help you make a different decision,” Avula said. “We’ve also worked with key leaders and influencers in the community. My colleague Dr. Rob Winn, who head’s Massey Cancer Center, has been meeting with African American pastors for months.” 

Health officials continue to advise the public to wear masks, physically distance and limit social gatherings.

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