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City on pace to host mass vaccination clinic next week

Suffolk is on pace to host its own mass vaccination center next week, according to state vaccination coordinator Dr. Danny Avula.

The city is slated to host a FEMA-funded clinic at the Hilton Garden Inn—Suffolk Riverfront that would provide up to 2,000 doses per day, six days per week. Avula said the week of April 4 is being targeted for the clinic.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided the money to operate the clinic, unlike a clinic opening March 31 in Norfolk, it will not be staffing it.

Instead, it will be run jointly by IEM Health and AshBritt Management and Logistics, which is handling other vaccination sites in the state.

Like community vaccination clinics set up in Portsmouth, Danville and Prince William County, the Suffolk site will be paid for with part of $179 million in FEMA money allocated to the Virginia Department of Health.

The Suffolk site, like other community vaccination sites, was chosen after the Virginia Department of Emergency Management did an equity analysis to determine communities with the largest number of vulnerable populations and communities with the largest percentage of vulnerable population and greatest COVID-19 impact.

Avula also said the state department of health looked at areas that had lower rates of vaccinations and overlaid that with communities that have higher rates of people aged 65 and older, those who are Black and Latino and areas hit hardest by hospitalization and death.

“We’re still working through numbers,” Avula said. “A little bit will depend on the allocation and how much it increases by that week, but some of it will also be continuing to look at demand and model. Is it a 1,000 person a day site where people come to one spot? Is there a mobile option that makes more sense? We haven’t totally nailed that down yet.”

Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Brian Spicer recently told City Council that April 1 is the tentative date to begin setting up the site, and April 6 the operational target date to begin vaccinations.

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

Statewide, 15% of residents are fully vaccinated, and more than 28% have received at least one dose. In the city, though it has vaccinated more people overall than in other localities in the Western Tidewater Health District, its dose rate per 100,000 people and the fully vaccinated rate per 100,000 people trail its district neighbors.

The city’s dose rate per 100,000 people is 23,452, and its fully vaccinated rate per 100,000 people is 11,049. By comparison, Isle of Wight County’s dose rate per 100,000 people is 31,011, Franklin’s is 27,903 and Southampton County’s is 26,278. The fully vaccinated rate per 100,000 is 15,374 in Isle of Wight, 13,330 in Franklin and 13,232 in Southampton.

In terms of overall doses, there have been 31,691 doses in Suffolk, 21,601 people have received at least one dose and 10,177 people have been fully vaccinated. In Isle of Wight, 17,169 doses have been administered, 11,508 have received at least one dose and 5,705 have been fully vaccinated. In Southampton County, 6,951 doses have been administered, 4,633 people have received at least one dose and 2,333 have been fully vaccinated.

Avula said the state is still on track to vaccinate Phase 1B by mid-April and opening up vaccinations to the general population by about the last week in April.

The state is set to receive 164,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 252,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine this week, Avula said. Those allotments include first and second doses. The Johnson & Johnson allocation this week is 49,000 doses.

“We, in conversations with the White House … heard that Johnson & Johnson, I think, did not meet their production goals for the month of March, and so didn’t quite get to the four million-plus doses that they were expecting to see this week.”

Avula said that in April, the state expects to see closer to 150,000 doses per week of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state’s federal retail pharmacy allocation is 127,000 doses.

He also said the state is aiming to target Black and Latino populations for the vaccine, not just at its mass vaccination events but also at targeted vaccination events. The state health department has contracted with Elite and the Green Street marketing agency to aid in those efforts.

He said for some, the pre-registration process has been a deterrent to getting the vaccine.

“It’s clear that there are segments of our community who aren’t going to register through that pathway,” Avula said. “And so, we’ve definitely created different avenues, both through the reservation slots in areas where we have a little more flexibility to do walk-ups, having a certain segment of a clinic available to walk-ups that are generated through that specific outreach.”