COVID-19 mass vaccination sites could start to close as more doses go to doctors offices, VDH says

COVID-19 Vaccine

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia health leaders are again planning to change up their strategy of distributing COVID-19 vaccines as demand begins to dwindle.

Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccination coordinator, said this past week demand peaked for the vaccine in almost every health district across the state. A little more than 44% of Virginians have received their first dose and roughly a third of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

Avula said that means it’s time to change the way the Virginia Department of Health is doing things to focus on one word: convenience.

“This is the time to shift more of the vaccine to primary care providers,” Avula said. “Survey after survey shows it is your primary care provider that you trust to make health decisions around and we want to give as many people as possible the ability to have those discussions with their primary care providers.”

Avula has said previously using primary care providers is key to vaccinating at least 75% of the state’s adult population — which would be an estimated 5.1 million people — the expected benchmark for herd immunity.

He said up until this point, vaccine demand as well as the manufacturers’ bulk-only shipments caused many doctors offices to be left out of supply.

Avula said VDH is also shifting its focus to local community vaccination sites with the hope to make more people feel more comfortable getting vaccinated.

Up until this point, vaccinations have occurred at local, state and federal run mass vaccination sites. Most of the large scale centers will start to wind down in May.

“That’s a big shift,” Avula said.

But Avula said it’s likely a necessary one, as studies continue to show some populations reluctant to get the shot.

“Rural conservative-leaning, you know people that identify as evangelical Christians. That’s the segment of the population where we see the most resistance,” Avula said. “About 40% of that community says they won’t get vaccinated at any point.”

He said besides making the vaccine more convenient to receive by allowing people to search vaccination locations on the state’s vaccination portal, he wants to start better comminuting the risks of not reaching heard immunity.

He said variants could spread more rapidly if enough people don’t get vaccinated.

“We’ve got to be doing a better job at helping the public understand, given where we are with vaccinations, what are the risks now and what are we are giving up to not start taking steps back towards normalcy,” Avula said.  

He expected it could take four to five additional months to reach herd immunity.

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