On a roll: Health department begins vaccinating non-hospital health care workers

Coronavirus case numbers continue to rise in Charlottesville and the surrounding counties.
PC: Blue Ridge Health District Coronavirus case numbers continue to rise in Charlottesville and the surrounding counties. PC: Blue Ridge Health District

The local vaccine rollout process continues. About a month after the first coronavirus vaccines were shipped to hospitals across the country, Charlottesville’s frontline health care employees who work outside of hospitals are now getting vaccinated.

On Monday, the Blue Ridge Health District (formerly known as the Thomas Jefferson Health District) began offering the first dose of the Moderna vaccine to area emergency service providers, dialysis center staff, and Region Ten residential facility staff at its location on Rose Hill Drive.

To expedite the distribution process, on Wednesday the district will begin hosting at least three appointment-only clinics per week for these select health care workers in a new temporary structure set up in the former Kmart parking lot. Red Light Management and the Bama Works Fund contributed funding to set up the facility.

“There are over 1,000 EMS [workers] that we need to vaccinate. There are folks going in and out of the hospital as well. So we want to get them done first,” says Kathryn Goodman, spokesperson for the health district.

The shots will be administered by public health nurses, who received their own vaccinations (and vaccine training) at the end of December. The district is currently working to vaccinate the rest of its staff.

The health district hopes to vaccinate about 500 to 600 people per week at the pop-up clinic.

Because both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be fully effective, district staff will use a new state Vaccine Administration Management System to properly track appointments and alert patients when they need to return for their second dose.

As more vaccine shipments arrive in the next few weeks, the clinics will open up to other frontline health care workers (hospice employees, primary care providers, dental practice employees, pharmacy workers, Department of Corrections health care personnel, K-12 school nurses, and more) who have had potential contact with COVID or with high-risk patients.

“We’ll have the information sent out to these groups,” says Goodman. “We have quite a long list already of thousands and thousands of individuals who need to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

UVA and Martha Jefferson hospitals continue to vaccinate their own employees. Other health care entities in Charlottesville and surrounding counties must fill out a BRHD survey indicating how many of their employees need to be vaccinated. The district plans to host additional clinics for health care employees—and eventually other essential workers and high-risk individuals—down the line.

To date, 89,326 people have received the vaccine in Virginia, including 1,542 in Charlottesville, and 1,615 in Albemarle County. However, none have been administered their second dose, according to the Virginia Department of Health vaccine dashboard.

Meanwhile, the health district has seen a record surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations since Thanksgiving, and expects numbers to worsen in the next few weeks following the holiday season. In December alone, there were 2,181 new cases, 86 hospitalizations and 10 deaths—the worst month of the pandemic.

While new cases in the district have remained low since the start of the new year, the district’s positivity rate is currently at 9.4 percent, the highest it has been since April.

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