RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — While many may choose to let all incoming calls with unknown numbers go to voicemail, Virginia’s vaccination coordinator is encouraging people to change that habit, as their appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine could be on the other end of the line.

Starting sometime next week, the majority of the retail pharmacy partners will begin scheduling appointments based off names already signed up on the state’s pre-registration list.

Currently, pharmacies like Walgreens and Kroger are using their own independent scheduling systems, where appointments are claimed in a first-come, first-served fashion.

Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, said the having pharmacies switch to using the states system would ensure shots are going to the priority groups first. He said the challenging part has been making sure the pharmacies can access the states list.

“We did not want people to be sitting on vaccine or hold off on vaccinating communities while they had this vaccine,” said Avula. “So we said ‘Go ahead and use whatever process you all want for the first few days. We’d like you to keep it to 65 and up but it’s better it go to somebody than nobody.”

Starting next week, people on the list will be sorted by district and by age, focusing on age 65-plus population.

People will be get appointments one of three ways:

  1. They will be scheduled by the pharmacy themselves. Pharmacies will go down list and schedule appointments by either email or phone
  2. They will be scheduled by the local health department, which will go down the list and use the pharmacy scheduler tool to make appointments that way. 
  3. They will be called by the 877-VAX-IN-VA outbound call.

“If you’re on a pre-registration list, answer a phone number even if you don’t know where it’s coming from. The ones coming from our call center will come from that 1-800-VAX-IN-VA number, but it may come from local health departments or it may come from pharmacies themselves,” Avula said. So I do think the top-line message … is make sure you answer your phone this week or in coming weeks if you’re on a pre-vaccination list.”

Over 100 physical pharmacy locations are now administering vaccines in Virginia. While most are offering theirs in-store like CVS and Walgreens — Walmart is holding off-site community clinics.

“They are fantastic partners, and are obviously reaching areas where we need additional vaccination capacity,” Avula said.

Clinics were held in Chesterfield, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Roanoke this week. Next week, Walmart will be offering vaccines in the Crater Health District, Prince William County, Norfolk and a fourth location.

Walmart vaccine clinics aren’t open to the public, and are by appointment only. Walk-ins will be turned away, officials said. Walmart’s vaccination clinics will be moving around each week to help reach communities with lower vaccination rates.

In Hampton Roads, Walmart held clinics Friday in Norfolk at the STEM Academy and in Virginia Beach at the Central Library.

Per Avula, nearly 1,200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were given to Walmart for each location. Each location will give out 400 doses a day for three days — Thursday through Saturday. Walmart has been maxing out appointments every day this week.

Virginia continues chipping away at vaccinating Virginia with planned deliveries of 180,000 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna, 130,000 second doses and 52,000 doses being administered through the federal government’s partnership with pharmacy companies.

Available doses could see another jump if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receives an Emergency Use Authorization. Virginia is scheduled to receive 69,000 doses upon authorization.

Avula estimates about 5 million adults need to be vaccinated statewide in order to achieve herd immunity. As of Friday, 1,193,349 people have received their first vaccine dose in Virginia.

As Virginia works out kinks in the vaccine registration and appointment-making systems, the state’s vaccine coordinator hopes we could reach herd immunity by the end of June.

CVS and those falling under the ownership of Albertsons (Safeway) will continue using their own system to register Virginians over the age of 65.

Sometime this weekend, all Virginians who have called, filled out an online form or registered with their local health department should be listed in Virginia’s pre-registration system. If not, fill out the form a second time or contact the Vaccinate Virginia number 1-877-829-4682.