Here’s the vaccine question of the week: Now that pharmacies are getting some doses, should people who have already registered with their local health district try to snag an appointment at the drugstore?
Or should they wait, thinking that the more registrations there are, the more clogged the system will become?
The answer isn’t clear, but then, what else is new when it comes to the vaccine rollout?
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it will distribute 1 million doses to 6,500 pharmacies across the country, starting next week. CVS Health quickly followed up with a press release that stores in Fredericksburg and Stafford County—it didn’t specify which ones—will be among 28 CVS Pharmacy locations in Virginia giving the shots.
CVS will get 26,000 doses for Virginia stores, and they’re coming from the federal pharmacy partnership program. That means the doses are in addition to the 4,350 shots allocated for the Rappahannock Area Health District, which covers Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.
And that’s good news, said Allison Balmes–John, spokesperson for the local health district. “We’re always excited to see that more vaccine is coming into our community,” she said.
But another player in the game adds to the many moving parts involved in the rollout. Because the CVS vaccines are coming from the federal government, local health officials aren’t privy to many details about how they’re dispensed.
Here’s a look at what’s known, at this point, based on press releases, websites and local health officials—as well as answers to other frequently asked questions.
To the stores that will offer vaccines starting Thursday, Feb. 11, appointments will be available starting Tuesday. It’s not clear if Fredericksburg and Stafford stores will be in that first wave.
CVS Health stresses the vaccines are available only for those eligible: people age 65 and up; those with underlying health conditions; and frontline essential workers.
No walk-in appointments will be accepted. Patients must register in advance through the CVS Pharmacy app or at its website, cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine and click on “Check COVID-19 vaccine eligibility.” People without online access can contact CVS customer service at 800/746-7287.
As of Wednesday, no location sites or appointments were listed on the CVS Health website because technically, the vaccine wasn’t available in Virginia yet.
The local health district is working with three Walmarts in the Fredericksburg area to give out the vaccine. They include the Massaponax facility; the Walmart at Dahlgren in King George County; and the one off Garrisonville Road in North Stafford, at 14 N. Stafford Complex Center.
Starting this week, each of the three Walmarts received 100 doses as part of the Rappahannock Area Health District’s allotment. People who registered through the health district’s website at vdh.virginia.gov/Rappahannock were put on a list which was then passed along to each Walmart.
That’s the current plan for dispensing vaccines, according to a Walmart press release. When Walmart and Sam’s Club get enough vaccine, they’ll launch their own online schedulers so eligible customers can sign up directly on their websites. But that is not the case at the moment.
Also, the Walmarts are getting names and contact information from the local health district, so there’s no point in calling the stores, looking for appointments.
To register in Fredericksburg for the vaccine, go to vdh.virginia.gov/Rappahannock and scroll down to the sentence: “The best way to join this list is to complete the appropriate survey.” There’s one link for people age 65 and older and another for employers of essential workers.
Those who don’t have access to computers can contact the health district’s call center at 540/899-4797. The Healthy Generations Agency on Aging, at 540/371-3375, also is available to help older residents navigate the vaccination system. King George County operates a helpline for its residents at 540/775-8977 or COVID19@co.kinggeorge.state.va.us.
Phone help is available during weekday business hours.
Mary Washington Healthcare has vaccinated more than 24,000 people, as of Wednesday night, and will continue to do so. The only thing that’s changed is that it’s currently not taking appointments on its website. It’s working off the health district lists.
That means people who got their first doses at the Fick Conference Center will get their second doses there as well, health officials said. Likewise, those who are vaccinated at one of the health district’s community clinics will get second shots there.
One difference is how the second appointments are made—and confusion may arise because people share bits of incomplete information on social media.
Patients served by MWHC get an appointment card for the second dose when they get their first shot.
Those vaccinated at other health district sites will get an email seven to 10 days before their second dose is due so they can schedule an appointment.
Health officials ask people to commit to getting both doses, where and when they’re due. The health district has gotten a lot of questions from people who got the first dose in another state or were vaccinated in the Fredericksburg area and may be moving, or visiting, another state when their second dose is due.
For the sake of less confusion and complication, Balmes–John asks that people “plan to get your second dose where you got your first dose.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425