Fairfax County Health Department Director Answers COVID-19 Vaccine Questions At Town Hall

At a virtual town hall on Wednesday night (Jan 6), Fairfax County Health Department Director Gloria Addo-Ayensu answered a number of questions about COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Most of the inquiries revolved around the timeline of the different phases and when certain groupings of people will be eligible to get the vaccine.

Right now, the county – like other neighboring localities – remains in phase 1a of distribution, meaning that frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities are the only ones currently eligible. This covers about 75,000 county residents in total.

In total, so far, Addo-Ayensu says that about half of those eligible in the county have been vaccinated so far.

Vaccinations are being done by the health department, Reston Hospital Center, INOVA hospitals, and at the long-term care facilities in partnership with CVS and Walgreen pharmacies.

But there have been challenges already in getting the vaccine.

For those not affiliated with a hospital, getting a vaccine requires making an appointment with the county by calling the health department. But residents have described being on hold for hours.

“We have a call system that’s been completely overwhelmed, people weren’t just getting through,” said Addo-Ayensu. “That’s just very unfortunate… We really do apologize for that inconvenience.”

She said that the county is working to fix this and starting on Monday (Jan 11), there’ll be an online system in place where folks can go to start the process of booking an appointment.

These complications are not unique to Fairfax County.

At a press conference on Wednesday (Jan 6), Virginia Governor Ralph Northam acknowledged that the state could be going faster in administering vaccines.

It’s unclear at this moment when, says Addo-Ayensu, when the county will move to phase 1b, which includes residents over the age of 75 and frontline essential workers.

“I don’t have an exact date of 1b, but I can say it’s going to happen very soon,” said Addo-Ayensu. “We haven’t gotten the green light to start vaccinating phase 1b just yet.”

When that does happen, though, it will be a very large effort.

More than 1.2 million Virginia residents are theoretically eligible for the vaccine in phase 1b, Addo-Ayensu said. Fairfax County is about 1/7th the population of the commonwealth, so quick math shows that about 171, 500 county residents could be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in phase 1b.

Then, there’s 1c which includes residents over 65, those with high-risk medical conditions, and remaining essential workers.

As for a timeline, it all depends on vaccine supply – which is being filtered down from the federal government to the state to the county.

“If we have sufficient vaccine… we could be going through 1a and 1b [in] March. And in spring, looking to do 1c and moving into the summer, doing the general public.”

Another important note is that, at this point, children are not being vaccinated due to the lack of data and studies.

Overall, Addo-Ayensu admits it’s going to be a challenge to provide all 1.17 million Fairfax County residents a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible.

“That’s quite a heavy lift,” she said.

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