Virginia nursing home operator says vaccine rollout is ‘frustrating’ so far

National Coronavirus Coverage

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — While the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia is still in its infancy, the doctor in charge of coordinating its distribution at a group of area nursing homes says it’s already been “frustrating.”

As part of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government teamed up with pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS to vaccinate those in long-term care facilities. Monday was the first day pharmacy workers began vaccinating residents and staff in Virginia.

Virginia Health Services, based in Newport News, owns and operates seven convalescent and rehabilitation care centers in Virginia. However, so far, a clinic to vaccinate residents and staff has only been scheduled at one of the facilities.

“To have the official start date of the 28th to come and go and not have dates for some of these facilities is frustrating,” said Dr. Robert Walters, Jr., vice president of clinical affairs at Virginia Health Services. “These months right now in the winter are very vulnerable months.”

As of New Year’s Eve, the Virginia Department of Health said 64,882 people had received their first dose of the vaccine. Less than 3% of those vaccinated had been people over 70.

Even though people over 70 years old represent 75% of the state’s overall coronavirus deaths, nearly 50% of deaths occurred in long-term care facilities.

VHS’s Walter Reed Convalescent & Rehabilitation Care Center in Gloucester is the site of the largest documented coronavirus outbreak currently in Hampton Roads with 75 cases and five deaths.

Walters said the “long-term care pharmacy partners” are making the decisions on what facility gets vaccinated when.

VDH Director of Immunization Christy Gray told reporters on Wednesday that she expects more people have actually received shots and the providers just haven’t put them in the system. She also said “it’s expected to be slower at the beginning but we are expecting to increase our efficiency over time.”

If Walters could provide input, he wouldn’t recommend starting at Walter Reed.

“My inclination would have been to prioritize facilities that have not had exposures. To maximize the likelihood that those people never get the disease,” Walters said. “There is some degree of immunity that can occur from having had the illness in some facilities that have already had an outbreak already had a degree of exposure.”

That way they can hopefully prevent any more outbreaks — while they work on getting others under control.

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