Central Virginians as young as 16 will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations this week as the Blue Ridge Health District officially enters Phase 2 in the effort to put protective shots in residents’ arms.
However, those who prefer the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely need to reschedule their district appointment or look to local pharmacies for that particular vaccine, officials said at a virtual press conference Monday.
Dr. Denise Bonds, BRHD director, said invitations will be sent this week to area residents registered for the vaccine through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, directing them to make appointments.
Others will receive general invitations next week, she said.
“We’re entering Phase 2 today and we are opening up to all of those 16 and older who are living or working in our health district,” Bonds said. “We’re downloading [files of] people who have preregistered in our system and they will get an invitation from [the Vaccine Administration Management System] to set up an appointment.”
Those emails will be specific to the individuals, she said. By next week, however, the district will send out invitations to others to register for appointments that are not based on Phase 1 restrictions.
“Those emails will be shareable and we want people to forward them and share them on social media so we can get all of our residents vaccinated,” Bonds said.
The Blue Ridge Health District runs five health departments and one community-based clinic. It provides public health services to more than 250,000 people in the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties.
Bonds said the district is still working through appointments made by people in Phases 1a, 1b and 1c but that those who fall into Phase 2 for vaccine priority should be able to set dates next week.
“There are still people in 1c that we are scheduling appointments for,” she said. “I expect that we can get everyone who wants the vaccine to get their first dose by the end of May.”
For this week, the district has received more than 9,000 first doses of vaccine and nearly 2,000 doses of second shots. All of those shots are made by either Moderna or Pfizer, as a national shortage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has left the district with no shipments this week.
Bonds said some of the one-shot J&J doses remain in supply, but they are limited. Those who made appointments for the single-shot vaccine at the district’s clinic in the old JC Penney storefront at Fashion Square may need to reschedule. Those with appointments at district clinics in other counties should keep their appointments.
“We have set aside 1,500 shots this week, with some set aside for outside of area,” Bonds said. “Whether we have any available [at the JC Penney clinic] will depend on how many people show up [Monday] and how many shots we go through. We don’t know about next week yet, whether [Johnson & Johnson shots] will be available to us or not.”
Bonds said vaccinefinder.org, a new website produced by the federal government, can help connect people wanting shots with area pharmacies that have inventory. Pharmacies will expand into Phase 2 vaccinations Sunday.
So far, the district has administered 167,070 vaccine doses since January, officials said. That includes 63,939 people who are fully vaccinated.
Of those fully vaccinated, 30,343 are from Albemarle County and 10,883 are from Charlottesville, officials said.
Bonds said she hopes people will get the vaccine as soon as possible, as the virus’ virulent variants are likely in the area.
“We have seen variants at the regional level,” she said. “We have certainly seen a variety of variants across the state. I think it’s fair to say that — because we don’t do analysis on every single individual who tests positive — it’s likely that most of the variants are here in our community at the regional level.”