Some older Virginians unsatisfied with access to COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — What is Virginia doing wrong? That’s what several WAVY-TV 10 viewers are asking about vaccines — or rather, a lack thereof — for those over the age of 75.

Getting an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine continues to frustrate and stress out many older people in Hampton Roads.

On Tuesday and Thursday, WAVY News 10’s Stephanie Harris talked with frustrated folks and tried to get some answers.

Norfolk resident Karen Coffman is 77 and has stage four lung cancer. She’s at the end of her rope.

The vaccine isn’t just something she wants — her doctor told her its imperative.

“It’s the nuttiest thing … what do you do?” she said. “My oncologist told me to get a COVID vaccine. He said because if I get COVID, if I ever run into COVID, I’m dead. There’s no way they can help me.”

Virginia vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula noted that retail pharmacies are vaccinating only those 65 and older, which he said is another way the Virginia Department of Health is prioritizing older adults.

But because those appointments with pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and more are made online, many, including Coffman, find it more frustrating than helpful. Many older Virginians are not computer savvy.

Avula said people in their 70s and 80s are also in category 1b — the current group eligible for vaccinations — unless they are in long-term care facilities. Those residents are in group 1a.

Gov. Ralph Northam also made people 65 and older part of group 1b.

Other states are prioritizing more by age, so why not Virginia? Avula said age 75-plus skews more toward the white population, which has a longer life expectancy. Including the 65-plus age group “appropriately allows for better representation across higher risk African-American populations,” Avula said.

Avula added that 1a and 1b make up about half of the eligible population in Virginia– and patience is important.

“I have been patient. I’m being patient but my patience is wearing thin,” said Angela Bunch, a Portsmouth resident. The 70-year-old has other health conditions and preregistered for a vaccine weeks ago.

Leigh Vitasek says that’s not good enough.

Since older people are dying at higher rates, she thinks they should get the shot before others in group 1b.

She has been trying for weeks to get a shot for her 87-year-old mother at an independent living center in Chesapeake.

“I have friends in Colorado all over the United States whose parents had gotten both of their shots and they are nowhere in their 80s. What’s up with Virginia?” she said.

Locally, Virginia Beach is setting aside a quarter of its shots each week for those 75 and older, another quarter for those 65 to 75.

Chesapeake Health District Director Dr. Nancy Welch also told 10 On Your Side Tuesday that there are currently more than 33,000 people on Chesapeake’s waitlist and the average age is 62.

“So that tells me that a major portion are seniors,” Welch said.

Welch added that more than half of the health district’s 2,800 doses allocated per week go to community partners — providers, pharmacies and hospitals — which have agreed to vaccinate those over age 65. About 25% of our appointments at Chesapeake clinics are for those over the age of 65, and they pull from the waitlist.

However, the community partners are not required to use the Chesapeake Health District’s waitlist because “it can be cumbersome.”

In Chesapeake, a little more than 13% of the population has been vaccinated, Welch said.

Coffman also reached out to Congresswoman Elaine Luria’s office for help.

Luria told our Stephanie Harris that people like Coffman with underlying conditions should receive the vaccine on an expedited timeline.

She added “unfortunatelly the failure to develop and implement a national strategy in the months leading up to the vaccine rollout, coupled with the unprecedented scale of vaccinations needed, has caused unacceptable delays to vulnerable populations throughout Virginia.”

She vowed to keep working on it.

Meanwhile, Avula wrote in an email to 10 On Your Side, saying the “vast majority of 65+ have some underlying condition based on CDC definitions, so we would be splitting hairs to pull them out.”

Northam announced Wednesday that more independent pharmacies will begin vaccinations next week and they will be focusing on the 65-plus age group.

They will also try to work from the state’s pre-registration list as much as possible, calling people from the state call center to make appointments.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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