TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va.- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s pledge to expand vaccine access comes as the Commonwealth trails neighboring Tennessee in getting the vaccine to those at the highest risk.
The Mount Rogers Health District just moved into phase 1b of Virginia’s vaccination plan this week. Health departments in Northeast Tennessee started vaccinating those over the age of 75 on January 2nd if supply was available.
“Not very many of us are vaccinating those 75 and older yet for us this is our second day of it,” said Breanne Forbes-Hubbard, the Population Health Manager for the Mount Rogers Health District. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook and we do apologize for the waits people are experiencing as they try to get through to us but we are scheduling just as quickly as we can.”
So far, 69,356 Tennesseans 71 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine in comparison to 18,657 age 70 and older in Virginia. Neither state offers a breakdown of the age range of those vaccinated in each county or district, only the percentage of the population or number of people that have been vaccinated.
“They’re our most vulnerable population. We’ve had the highest rates of hospitalizations and unfortunately death. So, being able to vaccinate them is a huge step towards reducing those terrible outcomes,” said Forbes-Hubbard.
The stark difference also catching the eye of former Virginia Governor George Allen on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Ballad Health is trying to speed up vaccine delivery to older residents.
“We’ve opened two new vaccine centers, community vaccination centers- one in Abingdon and one in Norton, Virginia and it really does allow us to start providing vaccine now to those patients that we care for within Ballad health that are over the age of 75,” said Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton.
Across the system, 3,500 vaccines have been administered to established patients in that age group.
The Mount Rogers Health District sends a request in mid-week to receive vaccines for the following week. So far, shipments have been weekly.
“We’re scheduling as many doses as…as many appointment slots as we can for the doses that we get,” Forbes-Hubbard said.
Although supply is limited now, the health department does expect it to increase in the coming weeks.