Suffolk to get mass vaccination site

Published 11:27 pm Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A mass vaccination site will be coming to Suffolk beginning in early April and will operate six days per week, providing up to 2,000 doses daily.

The vaccinations will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn-Suffolk Riverfront, and once operational, they will take place from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Brian Spicer said that tentatively, April 1 is the date for the site to begin setting up and April 6 the operational target date to begin vaccinations.

“There is an opportunity for that date to move up depending on how much vaccine the local health district can give us,” Spicer said.

Spicer said the site would be state-managed, vendor-supported and financed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The site would operate much like mass vaccination sites that started Monday in Danville, Tuesday in Portsmouth and Wednesday in Petersburg. The Danville and Petersburg sites are administering 3,000 doses per day, while Portsmouth has been administering 1,000 doses daily.

Suffolk is one of three additional sites, Spicer said. He said initially, the city’s mass vaccination site was to get 1,000 doses per day, but it “probably” will get scaled up to about 2,000 doses.

Spicer said appointments would be scheduled through the Virginia Department of Health’s pre-registration process.

The Virginia Department of Health looked at several areas in establishing the mass vaccination sites, according to state vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, including areas that had lower rates of vaccinations, and overlaid that with communities that have higher rates of people who are aged 65 and up, people who are Black, Hispanic and Latino, and then communities that have been hit harder by hospitalization and death.

“Looking at the intersection of those lower vaccination rates and higher need, that’s where we really started our analysis and our conversations with local health departments and local governments,” Avula said during a recent briefing.

In Suffolk, 24,804 doses have been administered, with 16,575 people receiving at least one dose and 8,271 people fully vaccinated. In Isle of Wight County, 13,671 doses have been administered, 9,176 people have received at least one dose and 4,527 people have been fully vaccinated.

In Southampton County, 5,692 doses have been administered, 3,798 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 1,899 people have been fully vaccinated, and in Franklin, 2,702 vaccine doses have been administered, 1,850 people have received at least one dose and 853 have been fully vaccinated.

How long these mass vaccination sites will operate will depend on how many people those sites can reach.

“In these initial stages, they will be closed pods,” Avula said. “There will be appointments based on the pre-registration system. And as we fill those appointments up and work through (Phase) 1B and then open up, then we will shift our strategy to fill those appointments for as long as we need them.”

Currently, the Western Tidewater Health District — which includes Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County — is still in Phase 1B, though the state health department has said local health districts can move into Phase 1C as they are ready. Spicer said he did not have any indication when the health district would be able to move into that phase. The Eastern Shore Health District moved into Phase 1C earlier this week.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, along with state health officials, urges people to answer their phones until they have had their vaccinations.

Along with the mass vaccination site, Spicer said other vaccination events would be taking place in the next few weeks. They include a Meals on Wheels event with Suffolk Fire and Rescue and Bayview Physicians Group to vaccinate 24 people March 18 and March 19. Bayview is providing the vaccine for that event.

There will also be a second-dose event for employees at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail March 22, a second-dose vaccination with Bayview March 29 and March 30, and a second-dose event for Meals for Wheels April 15 and April 16.