Western Tidewater health dept. had to call police after public frustration over vaccine supply, signup boiled over


A nurse holds a bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — On Wednesday, some 1,000 residents within the Western Tidewater Health District will get their coronavirus vaccines.

The clinic quickly filled up once phone lines opened to schedule appointments last Thursday, but many callers reached out to 10 On Your Side, frustrated after calling back for hours only to end up disappointed. 

Frustration became so intense that the department’s emergency manager, Will Drewery called police to protect his staff at some offices. 

“The way that some of the folks who were showing up at the health departments were behaving, they were banging on windows, pulling on doors – the staff was uncomfortable, so we made the decision to call police,” Drewery said.  

While he understands the public’s frustration and feels frustrated by the speed of the rollout himself, Drewery said his staff can only work with what they’ve been given. 

In Franklin, the office has three phone lines. 

For the entire district, 14 nurses serve 154,000 people. 

“Public health is one of those things that has been put last,” Drewery said. “The funding just simply wasn’t there and hasn’t been there to bring us up to a higher level of service which our constituents deserve.” 

Virginia was set to add a call center with 750 workers at the state level this week to help with vaccine appointments going forward.

Drewery also wants the public to understand that his staff is not withholding vaccines. Supply simply hasn’t caught up with demand yet. 

“I can’t give out vaccine that I don’t have,” he said. “At the local level, I can tell you we’re doing the absolute best we can with the situation we’ve been given.” 

When it gets enough vaccine, the department has plans to vaccinate more than 1,000 people per day during multi-day clinics. 

“We’re ready to move quickly and we’re ready to get this thing done and over with as quickly as possible.” 

Even then, it will take a great deal of time to get through everyone in VDH’s 1b category, which includes people over 65, essential workers and people with qualifying underlying health conditions.  

In Western Tidewater, Drewery said, that’s half the population.  

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

Senatara COVID-19 Infographic (Dec. 2020)

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