Virginia Switches Vaccine Tactics: Convenience ‘A Major Factor’

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By Carol Vaughn —
Health officials’ focus now is on making it more convenient for Virginians to get a COVID-19 vaccination, according to Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia vaccine coordinator.
Avula in a press briefing April 30 said almost 6.19 million doses have been given. Slightly over 44.3% of Virginians have received at least one dose of vaccine; the percentage rises to around 57% of Virginians ages 16 and over.
With supply no longer a problem, officials are starting to target efforts to be more neighborhood-focused, including pushing more doses to primary care providers, Avula said.
Mobile clinics, walk-up vaccination opportunities, and “more community pop-up vaccination,” such as at farmer’s markets and the like, will be part of the strategy to get more Virginians vaccinated, he said.
“Convenience is such an important part of the equation right now,” Avula said, calling convenience “a major factor of this segment of the population” not yet vaccinated, including Virginians ages 16 to 30, among other groups.
People age 16 and over are eligible for vaccination and can go to https://vaccinate.virginia.gov/ and enter their address to find a vaccination site near them.
Use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was resumed Friday, April 23, after it was paused to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to review information about cases of a rare adverse event called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome.
“A review of all available data at this time shows that the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks,” according to a statement on the CDC website.
The largest impact of the pause likely was on colleges, Avula said.
“What we are seeing…is that the younger population is not as motivated to get vaccinated,” Avula said, adding the state needs to keep vaccinating as many people as possible in order to reach herd immunity, which many experts put at 75% of the population either vaccinated or having had the illness.
“Seventy-five percent has always been our best guess at what it will take to stop the transmission of the virus. … We don’t know that for sure,” Avula said.
Increased hospitalization rates for 30- to 40-year-olds in the United States appear to be linked to the rise of virus variants, which are much more readily transmissible, according to Avula.
Vaccine hesitancy is waning among Black and Latino adults, according to national data, Avula said, adding, “It’s less about hesitancy and more about access there.”
Around 14.1% of those vaccinated to date in Virginia are Black, compared to 19% of Virginians who are Black. Around 10.5% of those vaccinated are Latino, compared to around 9 to 9.5% of Virginians who are Latino, Avula said.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the last four months and even prior to having vaccine to cultivate relationships, to think about what networks and what communities we needed to be engaged in,” he said.
“I think the more that we can do this in partnership and in connection with trusted people on the ground…the more likely it is that people who may not trust government but do trust their faith leader or do trust their county council leader, would actually show up and get vaccinated,” Avula said.
Other groups still have high rates of vaccine hesitancy.
“…(L)argely because of the politicization of everything COVID, and certainly of mask wearing and vaccination, it’s a different approach,” he said.
Research at the national level shows the greatest resistance to getting vaccinated is among “rural, conservative-leaning, people who identify as evangelical Christians — that’s the segment of the population where we do see the most resistance. About 40% of that community are saying that they won’t get vaccinated at any point,” Avula said.
What’s needed is in those cases “is creating opportunities to listen well, to hear what people’s hesitancies or resistances are about; it’s ensuring that you are not taking a judgment stance, but really using trusted leaders in those communities, whether they are physicians or teachers or pastors — finding those voices who were compelled by the data or by the social imperative to do this to protect your community and can vouch for the vaccine,” he said.
Calling the effort to persuade the remainder of the population needed to reach herd immunity to get vaccinated “hard and slow work,” Avula said he anticipates it could take another three to four months “to chip away at that last 10 to 15%.”
Only 9,200 “break-through” infections have been reported out of 95 million Americans who are fully vaccinated, Avula said, noting, “The safety and effectiveness are like nothing we’ve ever seen.”
He said he hopes that will encourage more people to get a vaccine.
Around 160,000 individuals in Virginia who received their first vaccine dose — about 9.4% of people who received a first dose — have not returned for their second dose within the alloted time, Avula said, noting the statewide vaccine call center will be calling those people.
Pfizer already has applied to the Federal Drug Administration to expand emergency use authorization for its vaccine to include people ages 12 and up.
In a May 6 press conference, Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia has vaccinated about 63,000 16- and 17-year-olds to date, and the federal government will approve the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and up “perhaps as early as next week.”
Northam also announced the easing of more COVID-19 measures beginning May 15.
Full coverage of the governor’s press conference will be available in next week’s post or online at www.easternshorepost.com