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County Defends Vaccine Rollout, Amid More APS Employee Complaints

Acknowledging that “many residents are frustrated,” Arlington officials on Friday urged patience with the county’s vaccine distribution, while calling on the state for more doses.

The county has been facing scrutiny for what some see as a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite receiving the first vaccine shipment before Christmas.

Earlier this week, vaccinations in Arlington were happening at a pace of just over 200 per day. At that rate, it would take more than two years just to give a single dose of the two-dose vaccine to every adult resident of the county.

Over the past two days the pace has quickened, with more than 400 doses administered each day. As of Friday morning, a total of 4,573 doses had been administered and 550 people in Arlington had been fully vaccinated.

Still, ARLnow has received a barrage of emails in recent days from people saying Arlington should be moving faster, given the more than 3,000 coronavirus deaths per day nationwide and the growing prevalence of a more contagious virus strain.

“The inability to ramp up to a more reasonable speed is terrible,” said one person. “People are dying.”

In a press release today, the county said it is “moving quickly to ramp up access for eligible Arlingtonians.”

“This weekend, the Arlington County Public Health Division will hold two clinics to vaccinate 1,800 individuals from the Childcare/PreK-12 Teachers/Staff priority group identified in Phase 1b,” the press release noted.

But even that effort is not without controversy.

As ARLnow first reported Thursday, the county-led registration process for Arlington Public Schools employees to sign up for vaccinations was botched, with many not receiving the emails and links required to register. Some of those that did manage to register and get a confirmation email the first time around were subsequently told that it was not actually a confirmation of an appointment.

“You received the WordPress confirmation due to an error in the technology that allowed more appointments to be booked than were available,” school employees were told this afternoon, in an email from Arlington’s public health division.

Some who received that initial confirmation were not able to secure a spot when registration reopened last night, we’re told.

“There were limited slots available,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia explained today. “Public Health sent an email last night to those staff who didn’t receive an appointment to schedule one of the remaining available slots. Those remaining slots were filled by this morning.”

Ryan Hudson, spokesman for Arlington public health, said the county is now waiting on more vaccine supply and cannot say for sure when the remainder of APS employees will be vaccinated.

“We can’t give a specific date when all APS teachers and staff will be vaccinated, as the ability to schedule appointments will depend on increased distribution of vaccine from Virginia,” he said.

“The expansion of people eligible under Phase 1b unfortunately does not increase Arlington’s limited supply of vaccine doses,” Hudson added. “The County began establishing its distribution plan and infrastructure in 2020. Arlington is prepared to expedite appointments as soon as the County receives additional doses from Virginia.”

County health director Dr. Reuben Varghese told the Arlington County Board earlier this week that the county was still working to establish infrastructure for mass vaccinations. Asked by ARLnow why that process did not start sooner, County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said much work was done leading up to the arrival of the first vaccine doses.

“Freezers were ordered, [a] website was developed and we already had a pre-existing relationship with Virginia Hospital Center,” he said today. “Many other infrastructure steps were taken, but demand [for the vaccine] so far exceeds supply. Other Northern Virginia jurisdictions and D.C. are also seeing similar challenges. We are working to get as much of the vaccine as soon as possible. We are asking for as much patience as folks can find.”

In this afternoon’s press release, de Ferranti defended the efforts of Varghese and County Manager Mark Schwartz.

“As the situation continues to change rapidly, our County Manager and Public Health Director are working flat-out to secure vaccines and to get them into arms,” he said. “The Board has assured them that we will provide whatever resources are needed to get this done.”

Other local jurisdictions have also said that the COVID-19 vaccine is in short supply.

“The vaccine supply in the U.S. is still very limited and is expected to increase gradually over the next months. Fairfax Health asks for your patience during this process,” the City of Falls Church, which utilizes services from the Fairfax County health department, tweeted today.

Virginia ranks near the bottom of U.S. states in terms of utilizing the vaccine supply it has on hand, according to Bloomberg.

President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, said today that the incoming administration plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to set up vaccination clinics across the country, while working to get more vaccines to local pharmacies.

The full county press release is below.

Arlington County applauds the decision by Gov. Ralph Northam to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to more Virginians, and County health and government officials are moving quickly to ramp up access for eligible Arlingtonians.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, Northam announced that all Virginians age 65 and older and those age 16-64 with underlying medical conditions will be moved to Phase 1b under the commonwealth’s vaccination plan.

“We are thankful that the state is making the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible to Virginians who need it and want it,” said Dr. Aaron Miller, Director of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. “Right now, every available dose that we have has a corresponding arm for it to go into. And we continue to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to release more vaccine.”

“County government’s top priority is to ensure the quick, efficient, and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “We know that many residents are frustrated, and we understand and share your concerns. Since Monday, there have been rapid changes in eligibility within the priority groups, including the addition of those 65-74 years old and those 16-64 with underlying medical conditions to Phase 1b. We also are receiving far fewer vaccines than the demand from Arlingtonians. We ask you to be as patient as possible as we work with urgency on this critical challenge.”

This weekend, the Arlington County Public Health Division will hold two clinics to vaccinate 1,800 individuals from the Childcare/PreK-12 Teachers/Staff priority group identified in Phase 1b, including Arlington Public Schools (APS). People in this group who are unable to schedule an appointment for this weekend will have opportunities to make appointments as more vaccine becomes available.

Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), which has already partnered with the County to operate a vaccination clinic for residents over the age of 75, is working to increase scheduling opportunities when more vaccine supply becomes available.

As Arlington County Public Health begins to receive guidance from the Virginia Department of Health on the additional people eligible under Phase 1b, it continues to work to vaccinate the many people who have pre-registered over the past several days.

The expansion of people eligible under Phase 1b does not increase Arlington’s limited supply of vaccine doses. The ability to schedule appointments will depend on increased distribution of vaccine from Virginia. The nationwide distribution of any COVID-19 vaccine is managed by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Defense. Arlington County is prepared to ramp up and expedite appointments as soon as the County receives additional doses from Virginia.

In the meantime, people 65-74 years old and people 16-64 years old with a high-risk medical condition or disability that increases their risk of severe illness from COVID-19 can pre-register and will be notified when appointments become available as vaccine distribution increases

Arlington employers of frontline essential workers (as identified in Phase 1b) who want a COVID-19 vaccine should still pre-register with the Arlington County Public Health Division.

“As the situation continues to change rapidly, our County Manager and Public Health Director are working flat-out to secure vaccines and to get them into arms,” de Ferranti said. “The Board has assured them that we will provide whatever resources are needed to get this done.”

Matt Blitz contributed to this report.

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