PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Following a confusing rollout, CVS and state health officials are again changing the way a person can qualify to receive COVID-19 vaccines from CVS pharmacies.
Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Health announced that, for the foreseeable future, in order to qualify for vaccine from a local CVS Pharmacy store, all one must do is be above the age of 65.
This is the second time the guidelines have changed since the pharmacy’s vaccination program was announced on Feb 2. The first change in the guidelines for getting a CVS vaccine in Virginia was less than 24 hours earlier.
“Not, not an ideal rollout,” Dr. Danny Avula, the vaccination coordinator for Virginia, told reporters in a conference call.
Hours before that conference call, there was confusion among many as 26,000 CVS vaccine appointments were booked up, even though CVS said in a statement Monday night that they wouldn’t be scheduling appointments until Thursday in Virginia to “ensure in-store availability.”
So how did that happen?
The answer lies in combination of technological and communication errors.
When CVS initially announced it would be launching its own vaccination program in Virginia, the company didn’t specifically state which priority groups they would be giving shots to, only that they would be announced prior to the rollout.
The company did say appointments could start being scheduled on Feb. 9 with actual inoculations beginning Feb. 11.
Then on Monday night, a release from the company pushed back the launch of the scheduling portal to Feb. 11, and the start of vaccinations until Feb. 12. It also clarified that a person was only eligible to receive a vaccine from CVS if they were 65 or older and pre-registered through a local health department.
“We were hoping this could help us faster address our large waiting list in which this priority population makes up a lot of,” Avula said.
Problem is, unbeknownst to the public, CVS’s sign-up portal had no way of connecting to the Virginia Department of Health’s waitlist.
Avula said that the initial plan Monday night required VDH staff to manually start signing up residents 65 and older from the VDH pre-registration list into a vaccination appointment with CVS.
However, Avula said the only way CVS could swing that was to open up their scheduling portal to everyone — on the day they originally announced they would.
Therefore, CVS said Monday night that the portal wouldn’t open until Thursday, when in reality it was opening at its original time today, in order to give VDH “a head start.”
“It really wasn’t until last night that we finalized a plan and alerted health departments,” Avula said, describing the whole process as a “roller coaster.”
While Avula is confident some appointments were filled by health department workers, he believes many others were booked by others who simply logged onto the retailer’s website.
“Several of the health directors likened it to you know, people getting the best concert tickets because they were ready to go on the website,” Avula joked.
10 On Your Side received calls from people under the age of 65 who successfully received an appointment.
Avula said they shouldn’t plan on keeping it.
“Like if you’re 65 and over and you were on the pre-registration list, then great get an appointment. If you weren’t, then you should ideally step aside and let people that are 65 and older who were on that pre-registration list to get an appointment,” Avula said.
Avula said those who aren’t 65 and older will be turned away in the store. CVS has no waitlist, so Avula advises that residents keep looking at CVS’ website for appointments to open up.
A CVS spokesperson said pharmacy locations will change regularly based on vaccine supply. As a result, they will not supply a list of participating locations. You’ll find available locations by typing in a zip code online or by calling select stores.
“We’ve been in ongoing discussions with the Virginia Department of Health to understand their vaccination program and determine the best ways to work together to ensure we are vaccinating as many Virginians as efficiently as possible,” a CVS spokesperson said Tuesday morning.
CVS will start actually administering the doses on Friday, Feb. 12. They have 26,000 doses to start through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, and 26,000 additional are expected next week.
The supply is separate from the roughly 130,000 doses the Virginia Department of Health is getting from the federal government and distributing to local health departments.
Appointments can be made on CVS.com, using the CVS Pharmacy app or by calling 800-746-7287. CVS told WAVY on Wednesday that more appointments were expected to be made available in Virginia on Thursday, Feb. 11, on next week when the company’s next vaccine shipment arrives. Appointments are being added on a rolling basis.
If a person is pre-registered with the state and receives a vaccine through CVS or somewhere else, their information still is entered into the same state database.
Avula says the VDH waitlist and state database will be reconciled. Those already vaccinated elsewhere will “eventually” be pulled off the list.
“When somebody comes up on our list, we’ll send a link out to them saying ‘Hey it’s your turn we have a vaccination event coming up’. Then they will either take it, and lose their spot with CVS or they will not fill it and we will just fill it with the next person on our list,” Avula said.
Avula said they hope to be proactive to better cement processes as more pharmacies come onboard.
Check back for updates on this developing news.