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After Registration Confusion, VDH and CVS Switch Course on Vaccines

A COVID-19 vaccine pictured during a mass vaccination event in January hosed by the Richmond City Health District. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s leading vaccine official, told reporters Tuesday the pharmacy chain CVS will take in any patient 65 and over to get their COVID-19 vaccine, even if that person was not pre-registered to get their shot through the Virginia Department of Health.

The original plan was for CVS to only take in people already on the department’s waitlist, as part of a federal pharmacy partnership program. Avula said that due to technology issues, CVS will not be able to check if their patients are the same as those on the VDH database.

“They have a standard national registration platform. They weren't able to write code and make adjustments,” Avula said. “They were not able to deliver a technological solution that would allow us to pre-register folks who had already been waiting on our list.”

Still, CVS will only vaccinate people aged 65 and over, per VDH request. Avula says pharmacy workers will request ID at vaccination sites to ensure people meet the age requirements.

The pharmacy chain is working with Virginia health officials through President Joe Biden’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which launched last week to lessen the burden on local health departments. VDH says CVS was chosen in Virginia “because of their footprint and ability to reach the most vulnerable populations because of where their stores were located.”

The roll out of the pharmacy partnership program in Virginia first caused confusion Tuesday morning, when people noticed CVS had opened its registration portal earlier than expected. All appointments were quickly booked up. Nationwide, CVS planned on opening the registration on their website on Thursday.

Avula said VDH requested that CVS open its registration portal early to allow local health departments throughout Virginia to register people on their waitlists, since the technology had not allowed the department to do it automatically.

“They tried to give us a head start by allowing that to happen,” he told reporters. “If we had early access to the system, we could have just preloaded all of the folks who are on our pre-registry. But for reasons I don't understand, they weren't able to do that.”

The doctor also aired his frustrations with those who tried to register for the CVS vaccines when they didn’t meet the criteria described on the pharmacy’s website. He’s calling on them to “step aside” and let people 65 and older get their shots, and he emphasized that if people don’t meet the age criteria, they will be turned away at the vaccination sites.

“This is an issue both of fairness for people who have pre-registered and who have been waiting but also ethics. For low income, or non-English speaking or people that don't have good internet access, this is not a system that allows equitable access, and so that's what we're fighting for,” Avula said.

Despite the obstacles VDH and CVS have faced in rolling out this partnership, Avula told reporters that overall, the program represents good news: Virginia will receive an additional 26,000 vaccine doses per week from the federal stockpile, increasing the state’s supply by 20%.

Vaccinations at CVS will begin Friday, a day later than originally planned, to ensure in-person vaccine availability. Appointments will be made on a rolling, first-come-first-serve basis and can be made on the CVS website.

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