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Vaccine Timeline Murky for Front-line Workers in Doctor’s, Dentist’s Offices

Dentist tools
With the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout taking longer than expected, many health care workers in doctor's and dentist's offices find themselves waiting while continuing to serve in patient-facing roles. (Photo: Cedric Fauntleroy)

The first round of COVID-19 vaccines has been delivered to front-line healthcare personnel in hospitals and long-term care facilities in Virginia. But some smaller-scale providers are still trying to find their place in line.

Phase 1a of Virginia’s vaccine rollout plan includes health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. This includes patient-facing public health workers, primary care offices, dentists and pharmacies. 

The Virginia Department of Health has directed doctor’s offices and dentists to reach out to their local health districts to sign up for the vaccine.  But the application process varies from district to district, said Paul Logan, with the Virginia Dental Association. 

“There’s a lot of interest in the vaccine among dentists and hygienists and dental assistants, but for many of them, it’s going to just take a little more time,” he said. 

Logan said some members have reported difficulty getting through or getting a response when they reach out. He said at least one member in the Richmond area reported being told he wouldn’t get the vaccine until mid-January. 

Dr. Melissa Viray, Deputy Director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts clarified that individual health districts have broken down Virginia’s Phase 1a plan even further into smaller prioritization categories, which is why some providers may be experiencing lags. 

“I think I would ask providers to be patient. Because I think where some folks have been waiting, they’re waiting for that prioritization category to hit,” she said. “Perhaps in other districts, they may only have been doing folks in higher subcategories. So they may have been doing 1a (1) or 1a (2). And they may not be at 1a (4), which is where dentists are going to be.”

Meanwhile, health officials report many oral surgeons and dentists who work in hospital settings have already received the vaccine.

The president of the American Dental Association issued a statement last month saying dental care should continue to be offered during the pandemic and can be done so safely. A study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association found less than 1% of dentists nationwide have tested positive for the virus. 

Bridget Blakemore is chief operating officer of Virginia Physicians for Women, one of the largest private practices in the Richmond area. The practice has about 30 doctors and 165 patient-facing employees at six locations in Richmond. 

She said doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals have gotten the vaccine, but other staff will have to wait to be registered with the health department. Many health districts are providing a form for smaller practices to complete, which includes the number of employees requesting the vaccine.  

“I was hoping for quicker access for our patient-facing employees,” she said. “That’s taken a little bit longer than I would have liked.” 

Caitlin Hodge with the Chickahominy Health District, which includes New Kent, Charles City, Goochland, and Hanover counties, said their team is reaching out to all health care personnel in the district who are unaffiliated with the major health systems included in phase 1a. 

“We are starting to schedule vaccine clinics for phase 1a, but we do not yet have an exact timeline for when all vaccines for those who are part of this phase will be completed in our district,” Hodge said. 

Federal health officials projected the United States would vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 2 million people have been vaccinated so far.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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