COVID Vaccination Infrastructure Is Pathetically Inadequate

by Kathleen Smith

For the millions of dollars that have come to the Commonwealth for COVID-19, did anyone ever think about the infrastructure needed to rollout the most important aspect of a COVID response, the vaccine? According to The Virginia Mercury, The Virginia Department of Health hasn’t developed a uniform playbook or guidance that health departments can follow when it comes to a COVID-19 vaccination.

Here is an example of the lack of guidance. Go to the Alexandria website link provided by VDH. There is a place on the page that allows you to register for the vaccine. Go to the Crater website link provided by VDH, you find an article from April 2020 with no information on the how to register for the vaccine.

Using the telephone number and email provided in the Progress Index for “contacting” the health department as the Crater District moves into 1B, I left and sent my contact information as requested. One week later, NOTHING. I also called at 8:56 a.m. and was told by the person answering the phone that she could not put me through to the vaccine department until 9:00 a.m. I called back at 9:00 a.m., received the same person, who then took my name and telephone number and said someone would return my call. I am still waiting one week later.

At age 65+ with co-morbidities, it appears that I am a “vaccine hostage” due to the limited capacity of Crater Heath District to build the infrastructure needed to scale up vaccination efforts, made possible by VDH’s limited guidance to scale up to meet the needs of the many Crater district residents.

One could design a Survey Monkey link that could at least provide the VDH a running daily list of people and their contact information in the 1B category in about 10 minutes, freeing up the “apparently work to the contract employee” who answers the telephone at the Crater District office and has apparently lost my call-in information to do other more important things, like checking websites for a new job, maybe as a career as a vaccinator. At this rate, the Crater district will not be totally vaccinated for several years.

Where is the infrastructure? Now, in the General Assembly, lawmakers are working on a bill to allow any qualified health care provider in Virginia to volunteer as a vaccinator. Why wasn’t this thought about long before now?  Goodness, we have been here in this place for almost a year?

COVID funds should be used for this roll-out in a way that supports infrastructure to give the vaccine. One cannot say any more than that. If there is no infrastructure, like a registration site for people to get the vaccine, how does the public have any confidence in the rollout?

In the Crater District, there are many people in poverty who have traditionally had no voice. Many elderly residents cannot read or write well enough to understand what they need to do. I cannot imagine a 75-year-old living in federal housing registering for this vaccine or more importantly, knowing how to receive the vaccine.

There needs to be a link on- line and a call- in center manned by volunteers to support residents.  There needs to be constant communication letting people know when to expect the vaccine and where to go and get it – as simple as a computer-generated email and postcard letting people know: the registration has been received, possible time frame the vaccine might be administered (third or fourth week in March), possible location (TBD), and most importantly, how will the person be contacted in the future. Spend the COVID money on what matters most to folks – infrastructure. At least with a post card, some of the elders can ask someone to read the information to them.

Although information on the VDH website is helpful to some, it is not at all helpful to the person who only wants to know about when they will receive the vaccine. What the Crater District needs to understand is that they are not dealing with only the “voiceless” in the community in this vaccination effort. They are dealing with everyone and everyone means there will be more accountability to how the vaccine rollout takes place. I have worked in and lived in Petersburg since 1975. I care deeply about the people without a voice.

Del. Lacshrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, has been most helpful in providing the communication about COVID. I have attended her public Zoom meetings and I am thankful she is in office. I know that sh, too, is concerned about the citizens without a voice in Petersburg. Thank you Delegate Aird. We need to have as much confidence in the Crater Health District and I for one certainly do not.

Kathleen Smith is an educator who lives in Petersburg.