‘We’re talking about months’: Chesterfield County officials grapple with vaccination delays

Coronavirus

A nurse prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield County officials are dealing with a case of balancing expectations and obtainable goals when it comes to vaccinating eligible populations against COVID-19.

Chesterfield Health District Director Dr. Alexander Samuel provided a COVID-19 update to the Board of Supervisors at its Jan. 27 meeting, sharing the challenges the Health District is facing in administering inoculations. The Chesterfield Health District serves Chesterfield County, Powhatan County, and the City of Colonial Heights.

Dr. Samuel says that the number of vaccines supplied at the state level has not kept up with the accelerated pace with which the Chesterfield Health District has been directed to administer vaccinations.

In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is responsible for allocating “a very limited supply of vaccines to localities,” Dr. Samuel says, which then manage vaccine administration.

Dr. Samuel says the original plan was predicated on healthcare systems managing the vaccination of individuals in Phase 1a, with health departments serving in the support role. However, there have been varied responses from health systems across the state.

“Things have not worked out to the degree or the extent that we had hoped,” Dr. Samuel said. “The new plan instituted last week was for health districts to control the distribution of the vaccine, which will be allotted to health districts on a per capita basis.”

Chesterfield County will receive 4,625 total doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each to week play a role in vaccinating what Dr. Samuel says is now approximately half of the state’s population. However, Dr. Samuel also reports that the County is expected to receive 100 fewer doses this coming week.

According to the COVID Update at the Board of Supervisors meeting, it could be between six and eight weeks before Virginia sees an improved supply of vaccines, impacting Chesterfield County’s allotment.

“There is room for improvement, much of which is a function of jumping into this in relatively short order,” Dr. Samuel said.

The Central Virginia Health District (CVHD) entered COVID-19 vaccination Phase 1b on Jan. 20, 2021, which Dr. Samuel says was a rapid shift, putting pressure on local health districts to play catch-up with a limited number of vaccines available.

“The list of tasks that we have to handle is growing, literally, every day, much of which is a function of having been thrown into this very quickly,” Dr. Samuel said.

Dr. Samuel says VDH will be switching to a new registration system next week, moving away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS), in order to better handle the growing number of Virginia residents eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and register for their inoculation appointment. The new registration system, known as PrepMod, is reportedly coming soon.

“It seems that there could be a lot more efficiency, and I understand you stand before us and you don’t have, necessarily, the authority to allow us to move forward without the state giving you that authority, and neither do we without the state giving us that authority,” Bermuda District representative Jim Ingle said to Dr. Samuel during the presentation. “This is one mission, one unit, and we need to unify and collaborate together to make this happen in the state.”

Dr. Samuel says that VAMS has made it difficult to register individuals for certain Points of Dispensing (PODs). However, the new PrepMod system will allow the Chesterfield Health District to have more control over where residents can receive their vaccine.

“Given the number of individuals who are being placed on that waiting list and the very, very limited supply that we have, callback and registration being put in one of our PODs for vaccination could take considerable amounts of time, several weeks to even longer at this point, with supply being what it is,” Dr. Samuel said.

Before Chesterfield Health District can start vaccinating individuals who will register through the new PrepMod system, Dr. Casey explained, the County will first need to address its current backlog. Pressed with question about that timeline, Dr. Samuel says it could ultimately take months to cover the entire Phase 1b population.

“We’ve heard government entities throughout the country with days and weeks,” Ingle said. “But we’re not talking about weeks — we’re talking about months.”

Chesterfield Fire & EMS Chief Loy Senter presented information about local first responders’ role in vaccine distribution, outlining a plan to achieve the goal of inoculating 70 percent of the County’s population of residents aged 19 and older.

Based on the stated goals of the Biden Administration, Senter estimates that Chesterfield County should receive 1,025 vaccine doses per day. If that were sustained, it would take approximately 179 days or more than five months to achieve that vaccination goal.

(Photo: Chesterfield County)

“The number-one priority for Chesterfield County right now is the vaccination efforts and ensuring that our people, our most vulnerable people, our most eligible people, are getting their allotment of doses,” Chesterfield County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey said. “There are some state hierarchical issues involved, but I can honestly say I believe that Dr. Samuel and the good staff that I met over at the [Chesterfield County] Fairgrounds today […] are good-hearted people trying to do a good thing. We are on the same team.”

However, Senter says Chesterfield County is receiving just 559 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per day, meaning it would take an estimated 328 days or more than 10 months to achieve that vaccination goal. These numbers have not been adjusted for the most recent data provided by Dr. Samuel.

(Photo: Chesterfield County)

“We do have a long way to go,” Senter said. “Supply, supply, supply is the issue moving forward.”

During his presentation, Senter also highlighted the fact that a home address is not a required field for registration in the state’s vaccine system. There have been nearly 80,000 vaccines that have been administered and are not mapped to a locality, meaning there could be additional inoculations that took place for Chesterfield County residents, but were not noted.

As the County prepares to vaccinate more individuals as eligibility expands, Senter is concerned by the lack of a repository or registry for certain individuals. For example, he says there is no way to determine how many grocery store workers the Chesterfield Health District will need to be prepared to inoculate when the time comes.

“There has been a plethora of shortcomings and disappointments throughout the vaccination rollout,” Chesterfield County Deputy County Administrator for Human Services Dr. James Worsley said. “But rest assured that the leadership of Chesterfield County stands ready to carry the banner forward regarding operations of vaccination rollout.”

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