The director of the Fairfax County Health District acknowledged and apologized Saturday for what she called “bumps in the road” in the appointment process for covid-19 vaccinations, but urged residents to be patient and promised that they would receive excellent care when it came time for their shots.
“I want to apologize to everyone. It’s been an unprecedented year for all of us. I know that the toll of this pandemic on older adults has been disproportionately higher for seniors, and so we are trying our best to distribute the limited supplies of vaccines we receive in a timely manner,” said Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, director of the Fairfax Health District, on a Zoom call conducted by AARP Virginia.
“We humbly ask for your patience, and we look forward to serving you at one of our vaccination clinics, and we will certainly make it up to you when you come to that clinic,” she said.
The Fairfax County Health District—which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Clifton, Herndon and Vienna—has about 100,000 people on a waiting list for their first of two vaccinations. But the district only receives 13,650 first doses each week from the state based on its population.
Of those, roughly half are earmarked for those over 65, while the rest are for those over 75 who had not previously received a vaccination, frontline health workers, younger people with high risk conditions, homeless people, migrant workers and those in custodial care.
Addo-Ayensu said she anticipates the number of vaccinations provided each week will increase to about 16,000 in the near future.
For those over 65, the district is currently scheduling appointments for residents who registered by around 11 a.m. on Jan. 18, their first day of eligibility. People are being notified by email as to when they can select a day, time and location for their first shot. In the future, the district’s covid vaccination information web “dashboard” may contain information showing at what point in the registration process the district is scheduling appointments, she said.
One problem the district encountered was that although registration opened for those over 65 on Jan. 18, the registration form on the district’s online system only allowed people to check if they were over 75 until 9 a.m. As a result, thousands of people registered between midnight and 9 a.m., checking the over-75 box but putting in a birth date of less than 75 years. The system had a difficult time reconciling the differences and technicians have been working to get people registered properly. Addo-Ayensu said there is no need for people who registered between midnight and 9 a.m. that day to register again.
In addition, the district has encountered “tens of thousands” of registration errors by people who inadvertently put in misspellings of names or email addresses. Again, Addo-Ayensu said teams are working to resolve those issues and people should not re-register.
The Fairfax County Health District chose not to join with the recently revised state registration system, she said, because it was concerned that the new system would experience its own set of start-up problems. She said the district might join the state system in the future. She urged residents who have already registered with the health district to avoid also registering with the state system.
Couples who registered one after another should be able to schedule appointments one after another, she said, but acknowledged there are sometimes glitches in the scheduling. She urged people to call the district’s call center at 703-324-7404 in that case.
People who receive their first vaccination will be given a card with the name of the vaccine manufacturer. They can expect an email to schedule their second shot within the proper time frame. Those who get the vaccine produced by Moderna, should receive a second shot four weeks after the first; those who get the Pfizer vaccine should get the second in three weeks. The second vaccine would still be effective if given four days before, or up to two weeks after, the suggested second dose time, Addo-Ayensu said.
She said people should receive an email with a unique link to schedule a second dose appointment about four to seven days in advance.
The second dose should be from the same manufacturer as the first, she said, and those doses are automatically sent to the district by the state. To ensure that people get a dose from the proper manufacturer, clinics only receive doses from one manufacturer per day and all are used, she said.
People should not come to one of the many vaccination clinics hoping that there will be unused doses left at the end of the day, she said. The clinics carefully monitor how many bottles of vaccine are opened throughout the day so that they are used “to the last drop.”
Because of the limitation on which dose people can receive for their second shot, people may have fewer choices where to go to receive their second vaccination, she said.
In the beginning of the vaccination process, the district was receiving doses primarily from Moderna, but lately most of the doses are from Pfizer. The district cannot specify which doses it wants for the first vaccinations.
Thus far, only vaccines produced by Moderna or Pfizer are approved for use in the United States, but Addo-Ayensu said she expects a new vaccine by Johnson & Johnson to be approved in the future. Another vaccine by Novavax is also under development.
Even after people receive their second vaccination, they should still abide by the safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention including wearing a proper-fitting mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying at home when ill. Addo-Ayensu said those protocols would probably remain in place until the entire country reached “herd immunity,” defined as 70 percent of the population becoming immune through inoculations.
Because the coronavirus which causes covid-19 is constantly mutating - such as mutations from the United Kingdom and South Africa - Addo-Ayensu said it is likely that future vaccinations may become necessary, just as there are new flu vaccines yearly because the flu virus mutates rapidly. She said it is imperative that people be vaccinated not only in the local community and the country, but worldwide.
“This is really a global problem,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are considered largely effective in reducing serious illness or death against the mutated forms of the coronavirus, she said.
The Fairfax County Health District is limiting vaccinations to those who live within the district or are residing here with family members for an extended period, she said. People should register for a vaccination within the jurisdictions where they live.
Addo-Ayensu said that she anticipates more pharmacies will provide vaccinations in the future, although only a limited number of CVS stores in the state are doing so now. She asked that people vaccinated at a pharmacy let the district know so they can take you off the registration queue.
Addo-Ayensu said the district has received help from numerous volunteers but “we always appreciate and welcome people who want to volunteer with us.” Volunteers can sign up at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/health/medical-reserve-corps.
People encountering registration problems should call the district’s call center at 703-324-7404, although Addo-Ayensu acknowledged that the center is swamped with calls and waiting periods are long.
If you were unable to attend this event, you can watch a recording of it here and the passcode is 22@%Rn8D. You must type the passcode exactly as it is written.
Below are other key sites and resources for information about COVID-19 and the health district’s vaccination efforts:
COVID-19 General Information
This story is provided by AARP Virginia. Visit the AARP Virginia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 7:00pm Eastern Time
Friday, Apr 23, 2021 at 9:00am Eastern Time
Friday, Apr 23, 2021 at 9:00am Eastern Time
JOIN FOR JUST $16 A YEAR