By Carol Vaughn —
On the Eastern Shore, 39.3% of the total population (44,000, which includes children) has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 28.3% has been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to Jon Richardson, Eastern Shore Health District chief operating officer.
More than 75% of residents age 65 and over have been vaccinated.
Richardson credited cooperation among the health district, Riverside, and Eastern Shore Rural Health, as well as health department efforts to seek out additional vaccine doses beyond the weekly allocation whenever possible, for the progress.
Richardson noted a “supreme lack of ego” among the three organizations, adding, “We’ve all worked well together; there have not been any hiccups…just trying to serve the community.”
The Eastern Shore entered Phase 2 on Monday, April 5, opening up vaccination to the entire adult population.
Still, the number vaccinated so far means “we’re not anywhere near where we would need to get to get to herd immunity,” Richardson said, adding, “I really hope that folks in the community recognize that the vaccine isn’t just to protect you; it’s also to protect your neighbor and other folks in your community.”
Vaccine hesitancy remains a hurdle in the goal of achieving “herd immunity” — meaning enough people in a community are protected from getting the disease because they’ve already had it or have been vaccinated. Health officials typically say at least 70% to 75% is needed to reach that point.
“We recognize that…there are still going to be people that are hesitant or not want it. One thing that occurs to us, obviously, is that we are government — and not everybody trusts the government,” Richardson said of the health department’s role.
He encouraged people with questions or who are “on the fence” about vaccination to talk to their health care provider.
Of total vaccines administered on the Shore, 23.8% have gone to Black residents — compared to only around 12% at the beginning of February — and 5.2% have gone to Latino residents.
“It’s not quite to where it’s reflective, exactly, of each proportion of the population, but it has been trending in that direction since basically day one,” Richardson said, adding, “We are continuing to make efforts to try to get to that.”
Officials from the health department, Eastern Shore Rural Health, and Riverside have twice weekly conference calls to coordinate efforts.
“In those calls, that’s one of the topics we discuss each time — what can we do to better reach our vulnerable populations and to ensure that access is out there and that it’s equitable,” Richardson said.
He also has reached out to pastors considered community leaders “and they have been helping us spread the word.”
The health department is in the process of hiring community health workers to help educate Latino and Haitian-Creole residents.
“I’m hoping we actually have boots in the building within the next week or two,” Richardson said.
Additionally, the department likely will hold mobile vaccination events in Phase 2.
The health department also is recruiting a GIS specialist to “help us really dive into the data as far as age groups and ZIP codes — where do we need to target messaging; is there something better or more that we can be doing to attract interest,” Richardson said.
Health department officials have been in talks with the public schools about offering vaccinations to students ages 16 and up. Only the Pfizer vaccine is cleared for use in people under 18.
“We’re working to get some (Pfizer) to vaccinate those specific folks,” Richardson said.
Accomack County’s two poultry processing plants, where COVID-19 outbreaks happened last spring, continue to offer vaccinations to employees, but each handles the process differently.
The Perdue Farms facility in Accomac gathers names of employees interested in being vaccinated and every couple of weeks requests doses from the health district, which the company then uses to vaccinate its employees on site.
The health department has been scheduling clinics at its Accomac building for Tyson Foods employees.
“Both plants have been asking for J&J (the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) for quite some time, and, coincidentally, I found out yesterday that I was able to secure 1,000 doses of J&J for the plants….We got the news this morning (use of the vaccine has been paused),” Richardson said.
The state and federal pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after six cases of a rare but severe side effect, will not affect a health department clinic scheduled Friday, which is open to the public and will use the Moderna vaccine.
Still, two of three pharmacies on the Shore receiving federal allocations — Walmart in Onley and Rayfield’s in Cape Charles, both of which started offering vaccinations last week — were only receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning vaccinations at those locations will be paused for the time being, Richardson said.
Up to 1,500 of the vaccines given in the health district to date were the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Even without the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in play, supply is sufficient to meet demand for now on the Shore.
The increased demand health officials anticipated they would see after the Shore moved into Phase 2 has not materialized, according to Richardson.
“We still have enough to fulfill any appointments that people have made and…we’re having trouble even filling our own (Friday) clinic,” he said.
The health department has 288 appointment slots for a vaccination clinic, Friday, April 16, at 23191 Front St., Accomac. The Moderna vaccine will be used. As of Tuesday, many slots were still open.
The clinic, open to ages 18 and over, is from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
To register for a morning appointment go to https://cw2-virginia-production.herokuapp.com/reg/0667251979
To register for an afternoon appointment go to https://cw2-virginia-production.herokuapp.com/reg/5126679069
If you are unable to register or have no internet access, call 757-787-5880 for assistance.