RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – All Virginians 16 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The state moved into Phase 2 of the vaccination process on Sunday, April 18. On Monday at 10 a.m., Virginia issued a text message alerting everyone 16+ they are now eligible to register for the shot.
“The Commonwealth has now entered an exciting new phase of our COVID-19 vaccination program,” Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference on Monday.
In this new phase, the state is changing the way people can schedule appointments.
Virginia’s pre-registration website now has a link to the CDC’s Vaccine Finder Tool. The centralized database allows people to search for available vaccine appointments at various providers near them by entering their ZIP code. The platform then diverts the user to each provider’s scheduling system, whether it’s a hospital, a pharmacy or a mass vaccination site.
Some health districts may require you to pre-register for an appointment rather than setting one up immediately.
The tool also allows you to expand your location search and target results by vaccine manufacturer. At this time, only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for 16 and 17 year-olds. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for ages 18 and up.
Northam said about half of adults in Virginia, or about 39 percent of the overall population, have gotten at least one vaccine dose so far. He estimated an additional 3 million people are eligible for the shot as of this week.
“Not everyone can get a shot today or even this week and while demand still outstrips supply, our supply is much larger than it used to be,” Northam said. “The allotment that we’re getting for both Moderna and Pfizer will allow us to I believe comfortably get all adults vaccinated by mid-to-late May.”
People can also continue to call the statewide call center at 877-VAX-IN-VA to book an appointment.
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula recommended this option for those that need language support since the CDC tool is currently only offered in English. Avula said about 10 percent of call center agents are Spanish-speaking and you can get a call back in 100 different languages.
“We actually added 250 additional agents to manage the expected increase in volume this week and we know that there are going to be more people who need help navigating the Vaccine Finder. We’ll take the question to the CDC as to if there is a timeline for translation,” Avula said.
According to Northam, the timeline for reaching herd immunity is still unclear because it might be a while before the vaccines are approved for emergency use in younger children.
“We’re looking at at least this fall and winter and hopefully, certainly by the beginning of 2022 we’ll be much closer to herd immunity,” Northam said. “We’ll never get to herd immunity if we don’t get shots in arms.”
Those comments come as Johnson & Johnson shots remain suspended during an ongoing investigation into rare blood clots. Some say the pause is proof of transparency but others fear it is increasing skepticism.
Avula said, last week, about 40,000 dose went unordered in certain parts of the state.
“Every week we are seeing demand drop off in certain communities. We’re shifting that to northern Virginia, to Charlottesville and to the Richmond area where we are still seeing demand,” Avula said.
Northam has said the state needs to reach herd immunity to broadly lift coronavirus restrictions, though updates for the month of May are expected in the coming days.
Northam did announce a few tweaks on Monday. Specifically, he is increasing the amount of people allowed at cross country events from 50 to 68.
The governor is also clarifying that high school drama programs will fall under the same guidelines as sports, rather than being classified as social gatherings. That means up to 100 people will be allowed indoors and a maximum of 500 outdoors. Indoor and outdoor spaces are both still subject to the 30 percent occupancy cap, according to Northam.