Rockbridge sees slow but sure COVID-19 vaccinations

Vaccine rollout in Rockbridge County is progressing, but slowly

Vaccines are slowly making their way to high-priority groups in Rockbridge County, even as a shortage of doses hampers the rollout. 

Right now, the Central Shenandoah Health District, which includes Rockbridge County, is administering 3,400 doses a week on average, said Director of Student Health Dr. Jane Horton, who is part of a group coordinating community vaccination efforts. Over 100,000 people in the district are eligible for the vaccine under Virginia’s phase 1b.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press conference Feb. 5 that demand for the vaccine in Virginia still far outpaces supply. 

The state has administered close to 1.2 million doses so far. Over 11% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, making Virginia’s vaccination rate the 12th best in the nation.

The county has the capacity to vaccinate more, Dr. Horton said, once the state increases supplies. But the district has a long way to go before it can vaccinate all high risk populations eligible for vaccination under phase 1b.

“Phase 1b… actually encompasses half of the population of Virginia,” Dr. Horton said. “Obviously you cannot vaccinate half the population in a short period of time if you don’t have the vaccine supply.”

Under phase 1b, adults over the age of 65, healthcare personnel, other frontline workers, public school teachers and staff are all eligible for the vaccine, according to the Virginia Department of Health. 

In Rockbridge County, people between the ages of 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions that place them at greater risk of COVID-19 have also been invited to pre-register, Dr. Horton said.

The current pace of vaccinations will hopefully accelerate, Dr. Horton said, as more vaccines, like the single-dose AstraZeneca shot, are approved, and more providers gain access to the vaccine. Virginia is starting to distribute vaccines to pharmacies like CVS. 

“It’s all step-by-step, incremental as more doses become available,” Dr. Horton said.

“But there’s a long way to go before we’re going to get to that point of the general public being able to get vaccinated.”

Vaccines are currently being distributed at the Rockbridge Area Health Center and through the Carilion Health System, which serves populations aged 65 and up. 

Clinics have also been held at the fire department. The committee Dr. Horton sits on is trying to find other possible locations for mass vaccination events, including Washington and Lee University. 

Public schools in the area have had better luck receiving vaccines. School districts have cooperated directly with the Central Shenandoah Health District to set up vaccine clinics, bypassing external providers altogether.

Rockbridge County Public Schools held a daylong vaccination clinic at Rockbridge County High School Jan. 29. Director of Operations Randy Walters said the event was a success—over 600 vaccines were administered by eight school nurses, enough to vaccinate over 80% of faculty and staff at RCPS, as well as teachers from Buena Vista Public Schools and Lexington City Schools. 

Walter credited the close coordination between Rockbridge County’s emergency management services and the Central Shenandoah Health District for the event’s success.

The coordinators “received very positive feedback from our faculty and staff about how smooth everything went and how organized everything was,” Walters said. “It’s a step towards hopefully getting everyone back in school [full-time].”

Some faculty at Washington and Lee who are eligible under phase 1b have already received the vaccine, including Professor of German Roger Crockett. Crockett, who received his vaccine at Rockbridge Area Health Center, said the process took 15 minutes and was surprisingly fuss-free. 

“For me, it was just another stop in my day,” Crockett said. “I went in, got the vaccine, and it’s been a week since and I still haven’t had an adverse reaction.”

Crockett said he waited three weeks between registering for the vaccine and being able to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated. 

Dr. Horton said the key, as supplies remain limited, is to remain patient and register early.

“Everyone that wants the vaccine wants it now,” Dr. Horton said. “Get pre-registered and keep your ears and eyes open for updated communications, but be patient.”