VB and Norfolk leaders growing frustrated with lagging COVID-19 vaccine rollout

COVID-19 Vaccine

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Leaders in both Norfolk and Virginia Beach expressed their frustrations this week with the information — or lack thereof — they currently have on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

Within the last week, 12 health districtsincluding most recently the neighboring Eastern Shore — have received the state’s blessing to start to vaccinate people falling under the state’s “1b” phase.

It was a month ago that the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the state was administered at Sentara Norfolk hospital. However, as of this week, neither Norfolk nor Virginia Beach knows exactly when they are expected to get the go-ahead from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to move into the second phase of the state’s vaccination plan.

“There is what I call a bureaucratic log jam somewhere between the vaccine and Virginia Beach,” said Vice Mayor Jim Wood in an interview Wednesday.

The day before, Wood, along with other members of Virginia Beach City Council, grilled local VDH Director Dr. Demetria Lindsay on why other parts of the state have been able to move forward, and they have not.

The “1b” group vaccination opportunities for the following groups: frontline essential workers — such as police, grocery store workers and teachers — people, age 75 and older and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, or migrant labor camps.

Up until now, Virginia Beach and Norfolk have only been vaccinating long-term care residents and staff, as well as health care workers, as part of the 1a category.

Lindsay did tell the council in her presentation that all health districts were expected to be in phase 1b by the end of the month. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) previously said the health districts that have made significant progress administering the vaccine to group 1a are the ones that will start vaccinating Virginians in group 1b.

That answer didn’t sit well with all council members.

“To say that we are going to get to 1b in one or two weeks is just not acceptable, when I hear of a neighbor on Knotts Island [North Carolina], who had his shot last week,” said Councilwoman Barbara Henley.

Wood added that it has been an “abysmal rollout” from his perspective and that the city needs more vaccines.

In response Lindsay said “different communities have different resources.”

“We have some communities that did not have as large as a provider base as we experience in our area,” Lindsay said.

Council members were also frustrated with a lack of a solid distribution plan once phase 1b is approved for the city.

While Lindsay explained the health department was working to “stand up” a facility to vaccinate a large number of people, Councilman Guy Tower said he has “a hard time accepting the ‘vagueness,’ frankly.”

“We are ready, willing and able with our hundreds if not thousands of employees and volunteers who can deploy this vaccine,” Wood said. “We are ready to be a force multiplier to get this vaccine into peoples arms.”

Wood said the vaccine is vital for the city to revive its economy. He said he doesn’t want to see more festivals canceled.

Lindsay left the meeting Tuesday without answering all questions, saying she had to go to another meeting.

Within the next hour, Lindsay appeared before Norfolk’s City Council, where frustration was evident, especially when it comes to schools.

“It was just disappointing to see that Chesapeake was able to [vaccinate] first with their teachers,” said Councilman Tommy Smigiel.

The Chesapeake Health Department said it was more than halfway through administering vaccines in phase 1a, so they started integrating portions of phase 1b, which includes teachers. 

Councilwoman Courtney Doyle expressed that people just need clear communication.

“I just can’t stress enough the necessity with being very clear with timelines and communicating very clearly so our community [has] level set … expectations,” Doyle said. “And I am not just talking about Norfolk. This is more than just Norfolk.”

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Senatara COVID-19 Infographic (Dec. 2020)

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