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Vaccines moving forward in Suffolk

Originally, the Suffolk community vaccination center at the Hilton Garden Inn—Suffolk Riverfront was projected to provide 1,000 to 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per day, not the 250 per day it has been providing now that the site is up and running.

However, Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Operations Manager Brian Spicer told City Council Wednesday that was due to the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management evaluating the pre-registration numbers of city residents and determining that the site did not need as many doses.

“While we’re not administering as many doses as some of the other clinics,” Spicer said, “I look at that as a good sign in that they don’t see the astronomical pre-registration numbers that we were thinking we were going to have before.”

Spicer said in its early days, it has not had issues with people showing up prior to their appointment, or showing up without one in the hopes of getting vaccinated.

The Western Tidewater Health District moved into Phase 1C April 2.

Spicer said the city would continue planning with the health district to ensure equitable vaccine distribution through local churches. He said private practices, healthcare systems and pharmacies are providing vaccine opportunities to the public, and it would continue to look for ways to get vaccines to underserved areas.

Going forward, the city will be hosting other vaccine events, among them a 500-dose event for the Western Tidewater Community Services Board April 14 for first doses, and on April 15 providing second doses through the Meals on Wheels program. Vaccines will be available to all adults 16 and over April 18.

Hub 757, the East Suffolk Recreation Center and the Whaleyville Recreation Center will host second dose events — Hub 757 on April 23 and the recreation centers April 29. The recreation centers hosted first dose vaccinations for 776 people April 1, while Meals on Wheels provided 23 doses March 18 and March 19, the Western Tidewater Regional Jail gave second doses for 50 employees March 22 and Bayview Physicians Group provided about 2,100 doses over two days March 29 and March 30.

Interim health director Dr. Lauren James said there are no plans currently to accept walk-up vaccination appointments in Suffolk, as is happening at a mass vaccination site at Military Circle Mall in Norfolk. That, she said, would require five to six more people to register people on-site, though it is looking into it.

“We are working on a process because we do see that that is a need as well,” James said, “because not everybody can sign up in advance.”

James said many people are not answering their phones, making it difficult to get more people vaccinated. Last week, health district staff and Medical Reserve Corps volunteers called about 1,500 people, and about 33% — 500 people — did not answer their phones.

“That’s the hard thing about phones, and honestly, it can happen with emails too, right,” James said. “But there is that gap of, are you catching someone at a time when they’re at home? So that’s something that we need to figure out a remedy for, too, because we don’t want people to be left out of the process.”

She said there has been a daily decrease in responses over the past couple of weeks in the response to the health district’s vaccination invitations, and city residents have expressed reluctance to drive from one part of the city to another to get a vaccine. People can register by phone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA or register online at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

James said the health district is partnering with the Suffolk Coalition of Black Pastors — it has been sending the health district a list of names and numbers to reach out to, and it is developing a flyer to inform people of vaccine opportunities. It is also starting to work with the Elite Team, a contract team with the state department of health that helps with canvassing, outreach, engagement and education. Del. Clinton Jenkins has also been working on improving the vaccine rollout in the city, putting together a committee on it and engaging city churches to be involved as vaccination sites.

“The other question we have to ask is when people aren’t pre-registering and becoming a part of the database, is there something we’re missing,” James said. “Is there something we need to share with them that might encourage them to be a part of the process. So we’re really trying to approach the equity from all aspects.”

In Suffolk, 38,914 doses have been administered as of April 7, with 25,008 people receiving at least one dose and 14,215 people being fully vaccinated. Of those it has demographic data on, 58.4% of people in the city vaccinated have been white, 33.8% Black, and Latino, Asian or other accounting for 7.6%.