Health district prepares to move into Phase 1b of vaccinations

Dale Alward, chief executive officer of Sovah Health-Martinsville, discusses the hospital’s role in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Jan. 12 Martinsville City Council meeting.

By Brandon Martin

The West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) is looking to greenlight phase 1b of vaccination distribution “very soon,” according to local officials.

Nancy Bell, public information officer for WPHD, and Dale Alward, chief executive officer of Sovah Health-Martinsville, confirmed during a Jan. 12 Martinsville City Council meeting that the request is currently being considered in Richmond.

“In Virginia, we need to vaccinate four million people before we ever get to the general population,” Bell said. “Still, we think that by late spring, we will be there. We have to wait from the Department of Health in Richmond, the mothership, on when to go from one tier to another. We have requested permission to go to 1b. That should happen any day.”

The rollout of the vaccine has been broken down to three stages — 1a, 1b and 1c — before it is available to the public. Currently, the district is under 1a criteria, which only provides for vaccination of healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities.

Phase 1b will widen the net to include frontline essential workers, people 75-years-old or older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps.

“We’ve progressed to a point now where we are working with the Department of Health to help vaccinate anybody that is within the 1a category,” Alward said. “Initially, the Department of Health was managing the other folks that were outside of the hospital. As we progress into 1b and 1c, which we think will be coming here in the very near future, we’re going to work with the Department of Health to set up clinics and vaccinate as we can.”

Bell referred to the partnership with the hospital as a “community program,” calling on the community to do their part of keeping up to date with relevant information.

She said the department would use social media, the WPHD website, and a hotline to provide updates to the community.

“We will post it’s time to register and make an appointment for your vaccine,” Bell said. Those seeking the vaccines “can do that online and they can do that by coming to the health department and filling out the paperwork. We don’t have the registration forms on any of our websites at present because we don’t want to get drowned with applications.”

Bell said the health department will first focus on those 75 years of age or older.

“If you are 75 or older, we are going to take applications until we have 400 people and then we will open up those applications again,” Bell added. “Everyone is going to have to be really patient and pay attention to the media and our social networks because we are going to be updating that as soon as new information is available.”

Alward and Dr. Sheranda Gunn-Nolan, a hospitalist at Sovah Health, discussed their personal experience with the vaccinations to prepare the public for what to expect.

“We do have both Pfizer and Moderna in the hospital,” Alward said. “We both received our first and second dose. I did not have any reaction to it. I had a sore arm both times. By and large, for the most part, people receiving doses were not giving a lot of feedback on negative side effects.”

Gunn-Nolan said it’s common for a stronger reaction to the second dose of the vaccine.

“The second time you meet corona(virus), you are going to have a stronger response,” she said. “If you have had COVID and you get that first shot, that would be the second time that you have met corona(virus). It can give you that same response.”

Common examples of side effects listed by Gunn-Nolan are fever, chills, body aches, headaches, and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“That lasts for 24-48 hours and goes away. The same with the arm soreness,” she added.

Gunn-Nolan said side effects were relatively minimal.

“This vaccine, not having those preservatives and not having those chemicals, is less likely to cause any of those other side effects — the scary things that we hear about,” She said.

Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) “vaccines cannot alter your DNA. I’ve heard from many that there is a microchip implant, but there is not. Those are common fears that people actually have,” she added.

Gunn-Nolan said both vaccines work the same, with each injecting mRNA. It “makes a viral protein piece. It cannot give you COVID. That little viral protein piece is what your immune system responds to. As soon as that mRNA does that one job, it gets destroyed.”

Even after vaccination, health officials recommend wearing facemasks and practicing other social distancing guidelines.

“After two doses of either one of those vaccines, you have a 94-95 percent protection against COVID-19,” Gunn-Nolan said. “Our reason for continuing to wear masks is for your safety. I would not get infected, but I could still spread it.

“Some vaccines will decrease your risk of spreading. These vaccines don’t act that way,” she said. “This vaccine will prevent me from forming an acute reaction. It’ll keep me from forming the infection. I can still spread it and carry it with me throughout the day to others, so that’s the importance of having all of those around you vaccinated. If those around you are vaccinated, then they could not develop the infection either.”

Health officials also said vaccines would be used wisely.

“We waste not, want not,” Gunn-Nolan said. “Not a single vaccine is being destroyed. We are finding people on a waitlist that are in that 1a category to get vaccinated so that we do not waste any of those vaccines. This is a vaccine the world wants. We know how precious that is. We are not wanting to throw any drop of that away.”

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Lisa Watkins, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, provided members of Martinsville City Council with updates about economic growth in the area.

In other matters presented, the council:

  • Heard from Lisa Watkins, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, who provided an update on the Chamber’s Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG).

The Farmers’ Market had 74 online orders and $1,783 in online sales. More than 10,000 customers attended the market in 2020. A total of 236 EBT (electronic bank transfer) customers were served, distributing $8,344 in EBT funds.

“The EBT program allows SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients, those who get supplemental food assistance through social services, to match dollar for dollar on fresh produce,” she said.

Small Business Funding Assistance provided outreach to 425 businesses by phone, she said and added individual assistance was provided to 320 businesses.

  • Set public hearings for council’s Jan. 26 and March 9 meetings on a Community Development Block Grant application for the Pine Hall Road area.








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