Statewide vaccine registry system launches amid continuing questions about equitable distribution

George Copeland Jr. | 2/18/2021, 6 p.m.
Virginia just made it easier to sign up to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, center, thanks registered nurse Robin Gilbert of Henrico Health Services, who was overseeing nurses administering COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday at the Richmond Raceway in Henrico County. Sen. Warner was joined on a tour of the inoculation site by, from left, Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney, Henrico’s Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton and tour guide, Jackson Baynard, Henrico County’s chief of emergency management. Photo by Regina H. Boone

Virginia just made it easier to sign up to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

As promised, on Tuesday the state Health Department rolled out a new website that provides a central place for individuals to register to get the shots.

The new website for people to register is vaccinate.virginia.gov.

People also can register by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA, or (877) 829-4682.

Meanwhile, two South Side representatives on Richmond City Council continued to speak out on the disparity their constituents are facing in trying to get inoculated.

City Council members Michael J. Jones, 9th District, and Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, who first went after the health department have now turned their attention to CVS.

Wednesday, the two council members alleged that the CVS pharmacy chain is storing vaccine at its store at 4715 Walmsley Blvd., but is not allowing people to come to the store to get shots. CVS is providing COVID-19 vaccines at 38 stores in the Richmond area and around the state.

Dr. Jones said he was told the doses at the store are reserved for use in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as part of a federal contract.

He said he was told the store was not considered acceptable for use as a vaccination site.

A protest and boycott of the store might be needed, he said, “if CVS is unwilling to come to the table with a viable solution.

“I recognize the need for the vaccine (for people in the long-term care facilities), but there are people in the neighborhoods near this CVS who are in need of the vaccine,” Dr. Jones noted in a statement in which Ms. Trammell joined.

“It is not fair to use this site, located in an area where the pandemic has hit the hardest, as a pseudo storage facility and not also use it as a vaccine site.”

Earlier this month, Dr. Jones and Ms. Trammell blasted the local and state health departments for failing to stage mass vaccination events south of the James River on a par with those offered north of the river.

The Richmond and Henrico health districts have begun staging small events at public clinics and churches and have promised to open a mass vaccination site in March on the South Side.

The new website for people statewide to register for the vaccine allows the agency to email those who register to provide information and appointment slots. The data being collected also will allow public health officials to track the vaccine status of those who do sign up, eliminate duplicate registrations, and collect demographic information.

For those who call to register, the hotline is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. The health department has hired 750 people to take calls. It also is equipped to help people who speak languages other than English.

The website’s initial launch on Tuesday had some bugs because of high interest and use. The state health department reported an average of 150 registrations a minute, with 300 per minute at its peak.

By the end of the first day, the department reported 240,000 people had provided the information to get in the vaccination line.

“This is a one-stop shop for Virginians to pre-register for vaccination, so that when your turn comes, the health department can easily reach out to schedule you for your shot,” Gov. Ralph S. Northam said during a news conference Wednesday announcing the addition of the hotline. “This system will be a tremendous step forward in our vaccination work.”

The new system registers people for vaccination events the department leads. In the case of private providers like CVS and other pharmacies, residents must continue to register for those doses through the pharmacy website.

People who previously registered through their local health department are still on the schedule, with their information being migrated to the state registry. People can monitor their status by going to the new website. At least 1.6 million local records have been uploaded into the new central website as of Wednesday, officials said.

The new pre-registration system doesn’t set an appointment for a first vaccine but enters a person’s name into a waitlist for later contact for an appointment. Officials said the appointment would be based on when the person signed up, their eligibility in the state’s current vaccination priority group and the availability of vaccine at the time.

Dr. Danny T.K. Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, noted that the supply is still limited. At this point, he projects that the vaccinations for group 1B may be complete by the end of March, with those in group 1C taking until May to complete.