‘That could really be the difference’: Portsmouth health director says vaccine efforts cannot expand without more volunteers

Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Since January, Virginians have heard it over and over again from public health officials: Be patient. Your COVID-19 vaccine is coming.  

By this weekend, 69,000 doses of the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be delivered to the commonwealth. 

Last month, public health officials in Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater told 10 On Your Side they would be ready to ramp up their vaccination efforts as soon as their supply increased. 

One city not included in that report: Portsmouth, where health department officials did not respond by air time. 

Repeated emails and calls eventually resulted in an interview with Dr. Lauren James, district director, who said her department is already operating at maximum capacity, regardless of supply. 

“We wish we could do more, but we are kind of just working with what we have at this time,” said James. “All of our events are staffed by Portsmouth Health Department workers.” 

That’s different from other departments, according to James, because they are able to rely more heavily on volunteers from the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps. 

Her staff holds three weekly events at the Portsmouth Sportsplex, vaccinating between 400 to 500 people at each.  

Without more volunteers, James said, the department cannot offer regular weekend vaccination events or smaller, “pop-up” events at churches, as other Hampton Roads cities have planned and hosted.  

“Our staff has been doing this since last March and they cannot work every weekend,” she said. “They don’t complain and I’m not complaining for them, but we want to provide quality services and to put that on a workforce that is already taxed, we just cannot.” 

James said she meets daily with state officials to work out a plan to expand the city’s vaccination efforts, and that they planned to visit the Sportsplex to assess whether it is operating at maximum efficiency. 

Asked if the state could do more for her department, James said she was receiving sufficient support. 

“No one can make anyone volunteer,” she said. “I don’t know how the state could affect that.” 

Anyone willing to join as a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer, however, “could be the difference in the amount of events we have.” 

Click here to sign up for the Medical Reserve Corps.

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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