Starting on Sunday, an empty store front in the Seminole Square shopping center will transform into the area’s second COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
The Blue Ridge Health District is partnering with the University of Virginia Medical Center on the new site. The district will continue to operate the tent in the former KMart parking lot. Both sites are staffed by UVa and health district staff.
The Seminole Square location is in the former Big Lots and will be managed by UVa. Officials said the 25,000-square-foot facility has plenty of parking and is on a Charlottesville Area Transit bus line. The site will help to vaccinate people more quickly once vaccine supply increases.
For this week, the health district received 2,950 doses of the vaccine but changes at the federal and state level could lead to more supply in the coming weeks. However, state officials weren’t sure Friday what the exact amount would be.
In the meantime, the health district is working to vaccinate remaining healthcare workers and some of those people in the phase 1b priority group.
“We want to set realistic expectations,” BRHD spokeswoman Kathryn Goodman wrote in an email. “Phase 1A and Phase 1B combined is nearly half our District’s population. Unfortunately, we currently have a very limited supply of vaccines. The demand for vaccine far exceeds our current supply. We likely won’t be able to expand to begin vaccinating the rest of Phase 1B until at least March or April.”
Wendy Horton, the CEO of the medical center, in a media briefing Friday, said with the Seminole Square location, UVa will be able ramp up vaccinations over time.
“It’s a larger space and so we’ll have the capability of providing more vaccinations,” she said. “As long as we have the supply, that will be an efficient vaccination location and can really help bolster the vaccination efforts throughout our community.”
Horton said the location was picked with help from community members.
“It’s really hard to get into UVa and the parking is difficult and so we wanted to make sure that we had a location that was accessible and that many people can get to and so you feel like this is an opportunity for the community,” she said.
Great Eastern Management Co. provided the Seminole Square space. As with the Kmart location, Red Light Management and the Bama Works Fund provided funding and logistics support, according to a news release.
The Quantitative Foundation and the private family foundation of Merrill and Jaffray Woodriff, along with other donations, also helped to make the site possible.
JAUNT, Inc. and CAT will provide free transportation to and from vaccination appointments, according to the release.
UVa has also partnered with the health district to vaccinate residents who are 75 and older, and 4,815 shots have been administered as part of that program.
Dr. Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology for UVa, said Friday that there are more than 6,000 people who have either been vaccinated or are scheduled to be.
“That’s been one of the most gratifying things that I think our vaccine team has been able to do since the launch of this project,” Sifri said of that partnership. “… The gratitude for our community members, our residents who are aged 75 years and older, who are coming in and getting vaccinated is just incredible”
Overall, UVa has administered 29,909 of the 46,150 doses it has received.
“That’s a total inventory and that includes the doses that are saved for second shot vaccinations,” Sifri said.
Both of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines require a second booster shot either three or four weeks apart in order to be most effective.
A little more than 60,000 first and second doses have been sent to the Blue Ridge Health District since the vaccines were approved in mid-December, according to a recently updated state dashboard.
Throughout the health district, 30,824 doses have been administered, and 4,063 people are considered fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received both doses. That count only includes people who live in the health district.
CVS and Walgreens are responsible for vaccinating long-term care facilities and about 89,044 doses have been administered through that effort. Locality specific data is not available.
The vaccine is currently open to frontline healthcare workers, people 65 and older, those with underlying medical conditions, and some essential workers. However, because of limited supply of the vaccine, vaccinating the 1a and 1b priority groups will take months, public health officials have said.
Goodman said earlier in the week that the district is focusing on vaccinating the healthcare workers in the first priority group as well as people 75 years older and three categories of essential workers. Those include: police, fire and hazmat; corrections and homeless shelter workers and child care employers as well as teachers and staff at public and private schools.
Charlottesville and Albemarle school divisions partnered to open an appointment-only clinic for school employees with a focus on those working in-person such as custodians and food service workers.
School nurses from both divisions have completed necessary training to become vaccinators and are administering the shots.
People who qualify for the vaccine as part of the 1b group should complete a pre-registration survey through the health district in order to provide contact information for when it’s time to be vaccinated. Those surveys are only a first step and do not schedule appointments.
The surveys are available at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge/covid-19-vaccination/ or by calling the health district’s hotline at (434) 972-6261.
All of the health district’s plans depend how many vaccine doses are provided on a weekly basis from the state.
To that end, state officials are continuing to change their approach to vaccinations in order to speed up the pace, including directing health systems to use vaccine set aside for second doses as first shots.
That strategy relies on a steady supply of vaccine doses and requires the state to manage the vaccine stock to ensure that there’s enough for those who receive a first dose to get the second round of shots.
“It’s an active management strategy really to address the buildup of inventory that was related to a slower rollout,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the state vaccine coordinator, in a media briefing Friday.
Avula said he’s confident in the ability of the vaccine manufacturers to maintain and improve current production levels, especially after receiving regular shipments over the last three weeks.
“Hopefully that’s reassuring to providers who have not been moving their inventory,” he said. “In some cases, we’ve had places that have been holding on to inventory because they weren’t sure if they can count on the federal government.”
The health district received 2,950 doses of the vaccine this week as part of a new state formula for divvying up the supply the state receives from the federal government. Initially, the district was told that figure would remain steady for the next month; however, the federal government said earlier this week that states would get 16% more doses.
That announcement coupled with VDH’s decision to use second doses as first shots will mean more supply for local health districts. However, that amount was unavailable Friday afternoon.
Avula said the state was told Thursday night to expect 18,000 more doses next week on top of the 105,000 it received for this week.
“That won’t immediately translate to 18% more per locality,” he said. “… So we’re still working that out. There should be a slight increase for all localities.”