State vaccine call center goes live

Published 7:54 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination pre-registration call center is open for business.

Now, with a call to 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682), people can call any day of the week between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and speak to someone in English and Spanish, or get a call back from someone in 100 other languages.

Of the 750 people staffing the call center, 75 of them speak Spanish. Gov. Ralph Northam said this was a starting point, and the state would hire more people if necessary to meet the demand.

However, Northam, during his press briefing Feb. 17, asked people to use the state’s online pre-registration form if they can.

“If you can use the online form, please do so and let our call center workers help those who don’t have internet access or who are having trouble with the online form,” Northam said.

The state’s new vaccine pre-registration website went live earlier this week, allowing people to check their status and get more information about the vaccine process. Those who pre-registered through their local health district have been automatically imported into the new system, though the Virginia Department of Health said data is still being migrated into the system.

Northam said 240,000 people in the state have pre-registered for the vaccine since the launch of the site and at its peak, it was averaging 300 registrations per minute. He said 1.6 million records were migrated to the state database from the local health districts’ lists.

Northam noted the state is getting around 130,000 first doses per week from the federal government, an increase from the 105,000 per week in the early stages of the vaccine rollout.

The governor announced Feb. 17 that he had signed legislation to expand the number of people eligible to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and another bill that requires the collection of race and ethnicity data.

“Tracking this is a critical step to ensuring we’re distributing vaccines equitably,” Northam said.

He also announced new guidelines for high school sports, allowing for up to 250 spectators for outdoor events — up from the current 25 spectators — as long as there is room to socially distance. Overnight summer camps will also be allowed this summer, Northam said.

Any health care worker licensed by the state department of health or the Virginia Department of Health Professions, or anyone who was licensed by those two entities in the last 20 years and is in good standing, can volunteer as a vaccinator. Health care students can also administer vaccinations as long as they have been trained to do that.

Northam also noted during his briefing that most school divisions had acceded to his call to have a plan to reopen schools by March 15, with “ just three or four” school divisions not having formulated their plans to reopen schools, he said.

Suffolk Deputy Fire Chief Brian Spicer told City Council that its own call center — operated with Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County — would remain open for the time being.

From Feb. 8, when the call center opened midday, through Feb. 12, the call center pre-registered 1,117 people, which Spicer termed an undercount due the many voice mails the call center received either after hours or when all other phone lines were busy during the day.

Spicer said those operating the call center have not yet finished calling back everyone who left messages, but they plan to do that.