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First vaccine clinic at Culpeper's Daniel Center goes smoothly
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First vaccine clinic at Culpeper's Daniel Center goes smoothly

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“Unprecedented” efforts to vaccinate thousands of Culpeper-area residents against COVID-19 continued Friday and Thursday, with a clinic held at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center.

The two-day clinic, a collaborative effort between the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District and Culpeper EMS, followed a similar two-day event held Jan. 19-20 at Culpeper Middle School, which vaccinated 1,092 people.

The Daniel Center clinic was staffed by the county’s emergency medicine providers, Medical Reserve Corps members and state Health Department nurses.

The collaborative clinic at the Daniel Center vaccinated 1,111 people in two days, 537 on Thursday and 574 on Friday, said Dr. Wade Kartchner, director of the regional health district.

It was the latest step in the “major, vast mission” that the region’s health and medical personnel have undertaken to combat the deadly novel coronavirus, said Bill Ooten, director of Culpeper County’s Office of Emergency Services.

“It is unprecedented what’s being done now,” Ooten said in an interview Friday. “We’ve never vaccinated this many people in our lifetime. The last pandemic close to this scale was the Spanish flu back in the late teens. Since then, we really haven’t seen anything like this.”

Culpeper’s operations center

The Daniel Center, off McDevitt Drive near U.S. 29, will remain the Health Department’s operations center for the next several months, Ooten said.

Vaccine shots are by appointment only, with the health district contacting everyone who is eligible and has registered online (best done via its website, rrhd.org).

Preparing for the time when more vaccine doses become available from the state and federal government, local authorities are also examining options for an additional vaccination site, he said.

Next week’s clinic will probably be held at the Daniel Center, Ooten said.

As of now, Virginia is in a “pretty static” period for vaccine deliveries, with demand for the COVID-19 vaccines far outstripping supply, he said.

“This whole thing is driven by supply, 100 percent, Ooten said. “It’s no secret that localities aren’t getting enough doses from the state, and that the state isn’t getting enough from the federal government—110,000 to 110,00 doses a week. There are 8.6 million people in Virginia, and 180,000 people in the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District alone, with its five counties.”

“What we’re hearing from the state is, ‘Please bear with us,’ ” he said. “... They’re doing the best they can with what they’re getting.”

Number of local dosesThe regional Health District has been receiving 1,000 to 1,500 doses of vaccine per week from the state, Kartchner said Friday. Local health-care professionals can give about 1,200 shots a day, he said.

The Health District had enough doses to vaccinate everyone scheduled last week, Kartchner said.

The district, which is notified on Fridays of the next week’s shipment, expects 2,175 weekly doses for the next four to eight weeks, Kartchner said.

Regarding weekly doses expected in the near future, “Some will be allotted to our vaccination clinic in Germanna, and the rest allocated to the hospital systems and other providers throughout the district,” he said. “We have met with and continue to meet with all our partners to come up with the allocation strategy. It continues to be a fluid situation.”

More than 25,000 residents of the five-county district have filled out online surveys registering for vaccination, Kartchner said.

The federal government said the health district won’t get a greater number of weekly vaccine doses for the next one to two months, the health official told Culpeper supervisors last Tuesday.

Vaccinations nationwideThe U.S. is averaging more than 187,000 new COVID-19 cases and about 3,000 deaths each day. On Saturday, the nation’s death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at more than 415,000. The U.S. leads the world in deaths, with 24.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

The largest vaccination campaign in the nation’s history has been beset by confusion and delays, The Associated Press reports.

President Joe Biden plan for the first 100 days of his administration includes a push to speed distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to Americans.

As soon as vaccine deliveries increase significantly, the Virginia Department of Health has coordinated with local pharmacies and physicians’ offices to get them ready to vaccinate their neighbors and community members, Ooten said.

“We’ve got to get more doses to our local communities, so we can get this mission done,” he said.

Confusion on several levels

Locally, the Virginia Department of Health and its partners began planning in December to ramp up vaccinations in the health district when the state receives more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the U.S. government, Ooten said.

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Culpeper County, at the center of the district, was selected as the central vaccination location for its five counties, with initial doses administered from the easy-to-find Reva Volunteer Fire Department on U.S. 29.

For Culpeper, those efforts began with the Culpeper Medical Center’s vaccination of its front-line staff and vaccine clinics at the Reva fire hall and Culpeper Middle School; the latter venue served Culpeper County Public School and county Department of Social Services staff. But more room was needed, Ooten said.

The Daniel Center was a natural solution, and its staff and the college immediately agreed to help, he said. In normal times, Germanna’s Culpeper facility hosts many public events.

The federal government split the first vaccine deliveries into Phase 1A, treating frontline healthcare and essential workers—about 2,000 people in Culpeper. Phase 1B is a much larger group, including police, firefighters, hazardous-materials handlers, food-service and child-care workers, grocery-store employees, public transit, the manufacturing sector, and “essential” government workers.

The week before last, Gov. Ralph Northam expanded Virginia’s Phase 2 vaccination rollout to include people 65 and older and with at-risk medical conditions, swamping the thinly-staffed local health district with calls and requests to get on the waiting list for a vaccine-shot appointment.

“Wow, that lit them up, and overwhelmed the Health Department,” Ooten said of Northam’s announcement.

Demand rose so high that it was more than the system could handle, he said. People phoned but couldn’t get through, and grew frustrated. People tried to register online but waited days to get feedback from the Health Department, Ooten said.

Take survey and waitOnce residents fill out the department’s online survey, they are added to the list of those who want to be vaccinated. When their turn comes, officials contact people, using information provided in the surveys, to schedule appointments.

Culpeper-area residents who haven’t already filled out a survey can do so via this link, using the appropriate form. A Spanish-language version for the Culpeper area is here, titled “Encuesta de fase 1B para personas (mayores de 60 anos y condiciones de salud subyacentes).” For context and the best information, Culpeper-area residents can visit rrhd.org, with survey links there in English and Spanish.

Those eligible for vaccines are people 65 and older; those 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk; and essential workers in Tier 1b as well as health-care workers from Tier 1a who haven’t been vaccinated already.

Officials are pleading with the public for patience, as residents wait their turn for the vaccine, and continued precautionary measures as cases continue to rise. They advise people to stay home as much as they can and to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently when they’re out in public.

Ooten said the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District books shot appointments weeks in advance, but can only do so based on the number of vaccine doses the state expects to receive and then parcel out to localities.

More local shot-giversTo provide more vaccinators, Ooten said he reached out months ago to the state Health Department and urged it to add localities’ emergency medical providers, both career and volunteer, to the team being prepared to deliver shots. EMTs are state-certified through Virginia’s departments of health plus emergency medical services to safely deliver injections, he noted.

But EMTs and Health Department personnel are trained under different state protocols. To accomplish Ooten’s goal, the department wanted to merge those training guidelines, which took time. And then Northam enlarged the pool of vaccine recipients, jamming Health Department staff statewide, Ooten said.

Deploying EMTS to help with vaccinations ground to a halt.

So, Ooten devised a speedier way to get his EMTs cleared to give shots, consulting with Dr. Jordan Crovatan, the physician who is Culpeper’s operational medical director and oversees its emergency medical providers. Ooten’s staff worked furiously to write local vaccine protocols and guidelines, within the usual scope of practice, and Crovatan revised and approved a variance putting them in place.

Ooten put out an all-hands call for Culpeper emergency medical providers who met the state criteria, and was ready to staff last week’s clinics at the Daniel Center. His daughter even volunteered to greet residents as they arrived and walked in the door of the center’s spacious auditorium.

Hospital, others coordinateThe other good news was that Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center was willing to share its independent stream of vaccine doses, received through its hospital consortium, Ooten said.

The hospital’s support at future clinics, planned under the direction of the Health Department, will depend on vaccine supplies and Culpeper Medical Center staff availability, said Donna Staton, the hospital’s president.

Ooten said he has worked closely with Staton since the pandemic struck last March. “She has been awesome,” he said. “She is just as committed as any of us.”

In numerous conference calls, Staton, Ooten and others realized they were tackling the same problem from different angles, Ootens said. They determined to collaborate better on a unified mission.

So, last week, when people entered the Daniel Center’s vaccination site, they were split into two streams to receive their Moderna shots, Ooten said.

On the right side were Health Department nurses. On the left were Culpeper emergency medicine providers. Both gave vaccinations, moving at 5-minute intervals.

Patients then converged elsewhere in the auditorium in a shared monitoring area, waiting 15 minutes to see if side effects arose and then cleared to exit the building.

Ooten said his captain onsite reported that the process worked well and proved to be very streamlined.

Culpeper County resident Daniel Else received his first shot of the Moderna vaccine Friday morning, and was pleased with how it went.

“It was one of the best-organized, smoothly-run operations I’ve seen in a very long time,” Else said. “I was impressed by the efficiency and good humor with which the folks processed everyone.”

Free Lance-Star staff writer Cathy Dyson contributed to this report.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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