PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth’s COVID-19 vaccination hotline officially went online Tuesday.

The Portsmouth Health Department created the hotline to help those without reliable internet access navigate the COVID-19 vaccination process. It’s operated through a partnership between the health department, the City of Portsmouth and Portsmouth Social Services.

Avanti Allen-Benson, who is the population manager for the health department, says the lines were busy on opening day.

“It’s awesome,” she said about the number of people calling in who were interested in getting vaccines.

Allen-Benson says the information collected will go through their RedCap survey and employees will start to schedule people for vaccination appointments.

Currently, up to 10 people can man the phone lines in accordance with social distancing guidelines, according to Allen-Benson. She says they trained on the equipment that’s being used before the line was launched and all those involved are working to help city residents.

“It’s a team effort,” said Allen-Benson. “We have technicians from the city who are hooking up the phone lines, who brought over the phones for the call service. Social services has vetted the volunteers that we have who are going to be answering the phones and it’s all hands on deck.”

Complete vaccine coverage for Hampton Roads

The busy day and high number of calls received on the first day of the phone line being open is an indication of the year the health department is having.

Portsmouth was last municipality in Virginia to “officially” move into phase 1b last week. 1b includes front-line workers, seniors (ages 65-plus) and people 16 to 64 years old with high-risk medical conditions.

“[It’s been a] crazy year but we’re managing and everyone is working hard. Our ultimate goal is making sure we take care of the residents in the City of Portsmouth and provide the best possible service,” she said.

Allen-Benson wants those who are calling to know they are doing the best they can to help.

“Be patient with us. We’re all working. It’s all hands on deck,” she said. “Between working with staff, working the clinic, folks who are working the phone, folks who are scheduling, we’re working as fast as we can.”

District Health Director Dr. Lauren James said about 20,000 people in Portsmouth fit into 1b.

Vaccine supply is still limited (Portsmouth gets about 1,200 doses per week) and vaccinations are by appointment only.

You can also sign up for the vaccine online at this link.

Portsmouth residents who are currently eligible for the vaccine can call 757-393-8585 option 9 to schedule vaccination appointments and get questions answered.

The health department is also providing information over the phone for those who have or know someone who has COVID.

To get these resources, call the Portsmouth Department of Health’s number at 757-393- 8585 and select 7.