By Taylor Boyd
The West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) entered phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccine process on Monday, Jan. 25.
Nancy Bell, public information officer for the district, said those 65 and older are the primary group within tier 1B.
“The signup is for specifically for people not already included in another group, like teachers or firefighters. It’s for individuals and couples” who would not otherwise qualify for the vaccine through their jobs but meet the age requirement, she said.
Bell said due to the age of the target group, electronic copies and paper copies will be available, with links on the district’s website and Facebook page.
Paper copies will be available at all the libraries, health departments, municipal buildings and chambers of commerce in the district, Bell said. A paper copy also is printed inside this newspaper.
Bell said she does not know how long it will take to get everyone vaccinated.
“It’s supposed to be use it, and you get more, but we’re just getting started. There’s a statewide shortage, and there’s a national shortage, of vaccines. So, we’re trying to be patient. We put in an order every week and we might get the whole order or we might just get part of the order. We’re asking people to be patient. We’re doing the best we can and we’re working around the clock to make it work,” Bell said, adding that is due to the vaccine being made in real time.
“We’re hopeful with the Biden administration’s efforts to get everyone vaccinated, with the 100,000 in 100 days. They’re speeding up production and using some different production methods. We’re just at a slow start, but as soon as we can get the vaccine rolling, in we’ll have mass vaccination events,” she said.
Bell said mass vaccination events have not been scheduled in the WPHD, but some are being planned.
“I know specifically that Carillon and Franklin County are planning a mass vaccination event, but it’s not been scheduled, and I don’t know how many people they’re aiming for,” she said. “Everyone wants a vaccine now, and we want them to have it now. I know there have been some stories in papers about vaccines being thrown away because they have too much- that will not happen in the West Piedmont District.”
Bell added that “if we have vials of vaccine leftover after a particular event or a series of appointments, we’ll call people on the list and ask them to come in and get their shots. We’re never going to throw anything away. We have a process.”
She said Southwest Virginia has been following Gov. Northam’s orders “to a T,” and didn’t go to Tier 1B until it was allowed to.
“Some other districts moved onto 1B earlier, and they were granted permission because they had more capacity to give more shots in 1B more rapidly than we were able to,” she said.
“The more you use the more you are able to order. Sparsely populated, rural communities like ours are always going to be down at the bottom of the list because we are not going to have as many orders as our larger counterparts,” Bell said.
Dr. Danny Avula, state vaccine coordinator, said a total of 1,010,150 doses have been distributed into Virginia, with 424,857 doses administered. “The seven-day rolling average is just shy of 20,000 at 19,405 doses a day,” he said.
Avula said a portion of those doses are currently committed and earmarked for long-term care facilities. “Remember the federal government’s plan to prioritize and vaccinate those very important members of our 1A population, the residents and staff of long-term care facilities,” he said, adding the goal is to get through all the nursing homes and long-term care facilities on the list by the end of January.
Avula said the local health departments throughout the Commonwealth also have different vaccine allocation strategies.
“In some cases, health departments and hospitals are working to do large scale vaccinations. In others, hospitals are saying ‘hey we’ve got a lot of acute needs that we’ve got to be focused on right now.’ The Lynchburg area and Southwest Virginia have been hit really hard with acute care COVID patients of late. So, their ability to commit to do more community-based vaccination is limited compared to other parts of the state,” he said.
He added that the slower than expected vaccination rate is due to the slow vaccination production rate. Those in Group 1B “need to realize that without a significant change in the supply of vaccines, we are looking at two-to-three months to work through this population that works to be vaccinated.”
“There is no chance these vaccines will transform into the actual virus and make you sick,” Wayne Turnage, Deputy Mayor for the District of Columbia Health and Human Services and Director (DMHHS) and the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF), said at Gov. Ralph Northam’s Jan. 14 COVID-19 press conference update.
Turnage said unlike traditional vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines do not expose a person to the virus because it is not made with virus.
“The current vaccines to fight COVID-19 are built from a new and smartly innovative technology based on a single molecule that has the ability to comminate with your body’s protein-making machinery,” he said, adding making proteins are a normal biological function of a person’s body.
“Based on the instruction that your body receives from this single molecule, your body is forced to make spike-proteins that have the exact appearance of the virus. Thus, your immune system is tricked into developing antibodies to fight COVID should you ever become exposed,” Turnage said, and added that he was one of 30,000 participants in a trial study of the vaccine.
“Half received the vaccine and half received the placebo. Then we were told to go live our lives, but continue to wear our masks and continue to social distance because we did not know” whether the vaccine or placebo was administered, he said.
“The results from this indicated that from amongst the persons that were later found to be infected with COVID, over 95 percent were from the placebo group, and only five percent (from those who) had the vaccine. The take away is that once you get vaccinated, you have less than a five percent chance of contracting COVID, and if you get infected despite having the vaccine, there appears to be next to a zero chance that you will become deathly ill,” Turnage said.
He said the data gathered from the 15,000 people who received the vaccine in the trial indicates the only demonstrated side-effects were short-term and mild — “mostly fatigue, headaches, and some muscle aches. I can attest to the fatigue because after I got my first shot, I slept more than I can remember,” he said.
As some are worried about possible unknown serious side-effects not uncovered during the short trials, all pharmaceutical companies involved with the vaccines “will continue to follow those who take the vaccine for more than two years,” Turnage said.
“With respects to safety, the benefits are exceedingly clear,” Turnage said, and added that taking the vaccine “is quite frankly our best chance to defeat COVID-19 and return to the way of life we so desperately miss.”
Noting that epidemiologists have said the coronavirus will continue to propagate “until it can no longer find fuel among the population,” Turnage said “we further understand that to build a fortress to prevent this continuous spread roughly 60 to 70 percent of the 330 million in this country must be vaccinated, effectively creating through mass inoculation, herd immunity.”
As of Sunday, Jan. 24 data from the Virginia Department of Health suggested there are 3,555 cases, with 246 hospitalizations, and 67 deaths in Henry County. In Patrick County, 999 cases with 76 hospitalized, and 28 dead from the COVID-19 virus were reported. In the City of Martinsville, 1,294 cases were reported with 110 hospitalized, and 31 dead.
The data also suggested there are 478,619 cases in the state, with 20,764 hospitalized, and 6,081 dead from the COVID-19 virus. Information from the CDC suggested there are 24,876,261 cases in the United States and 416,010 dead from coronavirus.
Data also suggested that as of Jan. 24, 64,381 Virginians have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
For more tips on how to stay safe, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.