RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –This week, some areas of Virginia are beginning a new phase of COVID-19 vaccinations, which includes adults 75 and older as well as certain essential workers.

Based on federal recommendations for ‘Phase 1a,’ the state kicked off its mass vaccination campaign by immunizing healthcare workers and long-term care residents. While that effort continues, more than 40 localities in at least 11 health districts are now allowing other vulnerable groups to be immunized.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, those health districts include: Alexandria, Arlington, Cumberland Plateau, Fairfax, Lenowisco, Lord Fairfax, Loudoun, Mount Rogers, New River, Prince William and Roanoke City/Alleghany.

The timeline for ‘Phase 1b’

While Northern and Southwestern regions of the state are advancing faster than others, the remaining health districts aren’t far behind. Officials expect the entire state to begin Phase ‘1b’ by the end of January, perhaps sooner in some cases.

Richmond City and Henrico County Health Director Dr. Danny Avula, who’s now spearheading the vaccination effort statewide, said the Commonwealth shifted its strategy after the initial roll out was slower than expected.

“We initially conceived that we would be able to get through ‘1a’ and then move as a state into ‘1b’ and what we quickly realized is that the state looks really different. Different parts of the state have different capacity for vaccination and they also have different demographics,” Avula said.

In a press conference last week, Gov. Ralph Northam estimated that ‘Phase 1b’ consists of about 2 million people. He said it could last well into the spring, depending on the pace of vaccine production.

Who’s included and in what order?

Since there are not sufficient supplies at this time to vaccinate everyone who meets the Phase ‘1b’ criteria at once, local health districts have been advised to reach out to ‘frontline essential workers’ in the following order:

  1. Police, Fire, and Hazmat
  2. Corrections and homeless shelter workers
  3. Childcare/PreK-12 Teachers/Staff
  4. Food and Agriculture (including Veterinarians)
  5. Manufacturing
  6. Grocery store workers
  7. Public transit workers
  8. Mail carriers (USPS and private)
  9. Officials needed to maintain continuity of government

“We really want to make this as flexible as possible because the more administrative barriers you introduce, the more complex and slow the mass vaccination effort gets,” Avula said. “We’re asking the local health departments, health systems and providers to try to follow the prioritization to the best of their ability knowing that there will be some flexibility in implementation.” 

Avula said vaccinations for those 75 and older will be parallel to immunizations of front line essential workers.

The state has also released guidance for ‘Phase 1c,’ which will broadly include remaining essential workers, adults 65 and older and Virginians 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions.

How do you sign up

Avula said frontline workers are likely to receive the vaccine through employer-based clinics. Businesses should reach out to local health departments for more information about scheduling.

In general, Avula said the best way for individuals to sign up is to take VDH’s eligibility quiz online. He said this will help your local health department connect you with a clinic via text or email once supplies are sufficient.

“As we onboard more private providers, as we onboard more pharmacies, there will be other opportunities to get vaccinated but given the amount vaccine supply we have right now that’s the best channel to get a spot,” Avula said.

Avula said Virginians living in communities that haven’t moved to ‘Phase 1b’ yet can still fill out the online form but they shouldn’t expect to receive clinic details until after their locality advances.

Avula said the state is actively working on alternative sign up methods to accommodate those who don’t have internet access. Ultimately, he said people will be able to sign up at their local health department in person but that process isn’t in place yet.

“I would remind folks that this is the most complex effort that we have ever been engaged in,” Avula said. “We just need to have patience as we’re working through this incredible challenge.”