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Local COVID vaccination effort will move into neighborhoods

Citing plenty of vaccine and fewer people getting their first shot, Blue Ridge Health District officials are closing the Fashion Square mall clinic next month and taking the inoculations into neighborhoods.

In a Thursday virtual town hall, officials said the mass vaccination clinic located in the former J.C. Penney store will close by mid-June. Until then, the center is accepting anyone 12 and older for vaccines.

“We have been operating out of the site since March,” said Ryan McKay, health district spokesman. “There’s been a pretty sharp decline in the number of first-shot appointments and we project that, come mid-June, we’re not going to be utilizing the full space here.”

Vaccinations will continue until the site closes, which is expected to be around June 15. Appointments are appreciated, officials said, but times are scheduled for walk-ins unable to make an appointment.

Hours and contact information are available at the district website, vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge.

Those under the age of 18 will need to be accompanied by an adult and have a parent-signed permission slip. The forms are available online or on site.

“We want all adolescents to be vaccinated, and it’s our goal to remove all of the barriers we can,” said Dr. Denise Bonds, health district director. “Every time we get someone vaccinated, that person is not only protected, but it adds to the safety of the community and older family members as well.”

McKay said vaccines are readily available in the region through pharmacies and doctor’s offices. He said the health department needs to look at serving people for whom traveling to a centralized clinic may be difficult.

“Access is greater at this point. [Doctor’s offices] are offering vaccines, pediatricians are now offering vaccines in their offices, and the pharmacy program supported by the federal government has plenty of vaccine,” McKay said. “It’s kind of reversed from when we started. Demand has gone done and supply has gone up.”

Health district figures show about 41% of the entire district — which includes the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Greene, Louisa, Fluvanna and Nelson counties — is fully vaccinated. Nearly 54% of the district has received at least a partial vaccination.

Vaccinations in the communities vary. Albemarle County has 60.3% of its population fully vaccinated, while Louisa County has only about 41% of its population vaccinated, figures show. Charlottesville has 55.5% of its population vaccinated; Nelson County has 52.3%; Fluvanna County is just short of 50%; and Greene County has 46.2% vaccinated.

McKay noted that the University of Virginia Health system vaccination clinic at Seminole Square shopping center, less than two miles away from the Fashion Square site, will continue providing vaccines.

That center is accepting anyone in the community regardless of affiliation with UVa, within the same age guidelines.

“We’re not planning to close the Seminole Square site at this point,” said Eric Swensen, spokesman for the UVa Health System. “Appointments are required at Seminole Square. [It’s] open to those 12 and older while supplies last.”

Appointments may be made online at myshot.healthsystem.virginia.edu or by calling (434) 297-4829.

UVa Health also is running a walk-in pop-up shot clinic on the Downtown Mall near the Sprint Pavilion from 3 to 6 p.m. Fridays.

For the health district, McKay said now is the time to move from the centralized vaccination facility to taking shots into neighborhoods with efforts targeted at individual communities.

“We’re really at a critical point in outreach and education. We need to get to where the people are [in order to administer] vaccinations, then [we can] get those final percentages closer to 70%, 75%, even 80% vaccinated,” he said.

Clinics may be set up in churches, community centers or schools and will follow on the heels of education efforts in the community to build support for the vaccinations.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to transition from a very large space to really focus on some more outreach and mobile efforts to get out to different neighborhoods and reach people where they are,” McKay said.

“We will look at more sites across the communities [in the district] that maybe aren’t operated on a daily basis, but we go there once a week or once every couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s a more difficult effort, now, to get people who may be a little more hesitant.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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