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State health department to unveil vaccine pre-registration system

Facing mounting criticism over issues with state residents signing up for the COVID-19 vaccine, the Virginia Department of Health plans to unveil a new statewide pre-registration system to address it.

Local health departments, including in Western Tidewater, closed their vaccination pre-registration forms Friday evening at 5 p.m. to prepare for existing waiting lists to be imported to the new system.

Statewide pre-registration will be available again Feb. 16.

State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, in explaining the short-notice on the adjustment to the registration process, said there is no practical impact for people not to access the registration system for two to three days, especially with current wait lists of tens of thousands of people.

“It makes sense in terms of moving to a centralized process that we would have a couple of days of downtime to integrate data and then move smoothly with a coordinated, central launch,” Avula said. “I don’t think it should cause much concern for the public.”

Avula said that in the beginning of the vaccine process, the role of scheduling and populating the vaccine events were parsed out to localities and said at that time, it made sense during Phase 1A. Avula said Phase 1B “has overwhelmed all of us,” and made it necessary to centralize the process. However, he said it should still allow for local flexibility.

“The form will change,” Avula said. “The process will not.”

The city of Suffolk, after learning about the state’s plans for vaccine pre-registration, said its recently-established call center would remain open while the state’s system is put in, but “at this time, it has not yet been determined if the city’s call center will still be able to provide assistance in completing the new pre-registration process once implemented.”

Avula said there had been a plan previously for a more coordinated statewide process for vaccinations, but Phase 1A, which health and state officials expected would last until around mid-February, went faster than expected.

“We thought we had more time to plan it out,” Avula said.

Avula said there would be a confirmation on screen that someone is pre-registered. People can also do a status-check at any time to confirm their registration, and weekly notices will be sent to remind people they are still on the pre-registration list. Everyone will be mapped by their home or work address to their local health district to determine where they will get the vaccine.

He said the link to the new form — to be populated on local district websites — along with the call center phone number, will be launched by mid-week at Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conference.

Avula said without a consistent supply of vaccine, “there’s got to be some room on the ground for providers to make decisions about which type of underlying conditions can be pushed to the front of the line,” and noted that the United States has never been a place “where we’ve had to ration a scarce resource, and functionally, that’s where we are right now. We have a very limited resource and a very large number of people who want it.”

Anyone who has already filled out a survey form or signed up to be on a wait list through their health district will automatically get imported into the new statewide system, and people will keep their current status in the queue.

The state department of health says the statewide pre-registration system will provide a unified and comprehensive process for state residents to sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Over the weekend, the state said it would “de-duplicate, clean and consolidate” data from local health district systems, and data from the Virginia Immunization Information System will be used to take those who have been vaccinated off the pre-registration list.

Statewide, more than 1.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, according to data posted to the state’s dashboard Feb. 12. More than 970,000 have been vaccinated with at least one dose — 11.4% of the state’s population — and more than 270,000 have been fully vaccinated.

In the Western Tidewater Health District — made up of Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County – 17,182 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, according to Feb. 12 data. That includes 9,332 in Suffolk, 4,451 in Isle of Wight, 1,839 in Southampton and 1,520 in Franklin. District-wide, 2,629 people have been fully vaccinated — 1,591 in Suffolk, 601 in Isle of Wight, 226 in Franklin and 211 in Southampton.