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Virginia to Expand Vaccine Eligibility to All People 16+ by April 18

Gov. Ralph Northam today (Thursday) announced that all individuals in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Sunday, April 18.

That is about two weeks ahead of President Joe Biden’s nationwide goal of expanding eligibility to the general public by May 1.

The news comes as nearly every Virginian in the highest risk groups who have pre-registered for a vaccine appointment has received one, and those still waiting will receive appointment invitations in the next two weeks, according to the Commonwealth.

More than 3.7 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Virginia, the state said, adding that about one in three adults have received at least one dose and one in five are fully vaccinated.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel — and that light is getting brighter every day as more and more Virginians get vaccinated,” Northam said. “Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us, and I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

Arlington is currently averaging just over 2,200 doses administered per day — a new local record, though it still lags in fully vaccinated individuals per capita. According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, nearly 12% of Arlington’s population has been fully vaccinated, compared to 13.3% for Alexandria and 14.5% for Fairfax County.

“We have seen a bit of an increase in doses recently, and we continue to be optimistic that our supply will increase even more,” Arlington County Public Health Division spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell tells ARLnow.

As of March 29, there are upwards of 35,000 people pre-registered to receive the vaccine in Arlington, about 15,000 who cited complication risks and 19,000 who cited work-related exposure risks, Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese told the County Board in a work session on Tuesday.

“We’ve already reached out to all eligible residents who have pre-registered with the county,” said O’Donnell, in a vaccine Q&A video published today. “There have been quite a few cases where missing or incorrect info can make your record ineligible. Make sure your eligibility category is one of the one’s being scheduled. If you’ve tried everything and you think there’s a problem, let us know.”

Arlington County has been calling for more vaccine from the state. The Commonwealth, meanwhile, says it is distributing vaccine doses as quickly as they are provided by the federal government.

“Because the Commonwealth has followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize those at highest risk, and because Virginia is a large and diverse state with many essential workers, many out-of-state commuters, and a high percentage of the population that wants to be vaccinated, it has taken some time to open eligibility to the general public,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Phase 1C essential workers in 21 of Virginia’s 35 local health districts have been able to secure vaccination appointments, according to the release, and beginning April 4 districts that have invited everyone pre-registered in Phase 1C may invite members of the general public who have pre-registered to schedule appointments.

Arlington is still working through Phase 1B, recently expanding access to clergy and janitorial staff eligible in this phase, according to the County Board work session. Phase 1C essential workers and the general public are still ineligible.

Despite demand currently outstripping supply in places like Arlington, all local health districts will have enough vaccines to open appointments to the general public by April 18, according to the Commonwealth. Those at the highest risk will continue to be prioritized in the scheduling process.

Arlington County is still striving for a more equitable distribution of vaccination doses.

Varghese said his department is aware of disproportionalities in Arlington among those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Through March 27, more than 63% of Arlington residents and non-residents with at least one dose said they are non-Hispanic white. Meanwhile, Hispanic or Latino residents and non-residents make up 11% of those vaccinated and non-Hispanic Black Arlington residents and non-residents make up 7% of those vaccinated.

White people are slightly over-represented in vaccination rates compared to their proportion of the population, while Arlington residents who do not identify as white are slightly under-represented.

“All we can conclude right now is that this is who was able to get into the system,” Varghese said. “An Internet email system is going to disenfranchise some more than others, but it’s what the CDC had to put together.”

Board member Christian Dorsey applauded the granular data broken down by race, while pointing out that the information does not account for age distribution. Arlingtonians age 65 and older are disproportionately white, a statistic that could impact the numbers presented to the Board, Dorsey said.

“At some point, I hope that we can add to this analysis some of the expected outcomes based on age distribution,” he said. “I don’t want people to look at this that somehow, something is fundamentally broken — we don’t know that yet. We have room for more analysis to paint a better picture.”

Non-residents — essential workers who live elsewhere but are eligible through their employers in Arlington — make up just over 6,000 of the more than 37,000 vaccine doses administered by the county health department, according to the presentation.

Meanwhile, Arlington has recently seen an uptick in cases of the coronavirus.

There have been 276 new cases over the past seven days, the highest seven-day total since March 7, according to VDH data. Fifteen people have been hospitalized in the last week, which is the highest seven-day total since Feb. 28.

“Throughout the course of the pandemic, there have been normal ebbs and flows, especially as there are changes in the level of restrictions in and around the community,” O’Donnell tells ARLnow. “We know that as the weather gets nicer and people get out more, there is an increasing temptation to let down the guard with those safety protocols, but it’s important to remember that they are still just as vital. People should continue to maintain those distances and wear face coverings when out in public.”

The county is advising Arlingtonians to find safe ways to observe upcoming religious holidays.

“Attending gatherings to observe religious and spiritual holidays increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the county said in a vaccine update today. “So this year, it’s best to enjoy Easter dinner and egg hunts virtually, with people who live with you, or outside and at least 6 feet apart from others.”

In total, 85,494 vaccine doses have been administered in Arlington, according to VDH, while 14,273 cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

Photos (above) via Arlington County/YouTube 

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