The Blue Ridge Health District gave its first COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare workers on Monday.

The health district (formerly the Thomas Jefferson Health District) vaccinated its own staff last week. For now, it’s offering vaccines exclusively to emergency medical service responders, Region Ten residential facility staff and dialysis center staff. 

Officials plan to open up appointments to all frontline health care workers in the district sometime in the next two weeks.

“There are a lot of people in the district,” said Kathryn Goodman, a spokeswoman for the BRHD. “We will have 8,000 frontline health care workers who need to be vaccinated.”

It’s unclear how long this process will take, Goodman added.

For now, the district is operating from its main Charlottesville/Albemarle Health Department office. But on Wednesday, it will move to a massive modular structure in the old Kmart parking lot at 1801 Hydraulic Road.

Modular vaccination structure

The Blue Ridge Health District sets up their modular vaccination structure in the old K-Mart parking lot.

Credit: Photo provided by Kathryn Goodman/Blue Ridge Health District

That area will have 18 vaccination stations with space for registration and post-vaccination monitoring.

“It is really an excellent space,” Goodman said. “And it will be under surveillance and the vaccine will not be stored there.”

Phase 1A

This is still the first round of vaccine distribution, termed Phase 1A by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It includes all frontline healthcare workers and people living in long-term care facilities.

In this phase, hospitals are vaccinating their own staffs. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are providing vaccines to care facilities. And local health districts are responsible for all healthcare workers who are not affiliated with a hospital.

That list is long, Goodman said. It includes, in a list provided:

  • Mental Health Residential Care Facility – DBHDS, private psychiatric facility, rehabilitation facility
  • Dialysis Office
  • Department of Corrections – Healthcare personnel
  • Home Health and Hospice
  • Ambulatory Surgery Center
  • Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC)
  • Community Service Board (CSBs)
  • Primary Care Doctors Office
  • Free Clinics
  • Dental Practice
  • Pharmacies
  • K-12 Nursing staff
  • Students in clinical rotations
  • EMS – Please see your chief for further information
  • Law Enforcement – who act as first responders

The district compiled a list of everyone who fits into Phase 1A by using employers. They will use the same approach, at least in part, to reach qualified people in the coming phases, Goodman said.

Phase 1B

Once Phase 1A concludes, all health districts will move on to people in Phase 1B. That phase broadly includes adults over 75 and certain “frontline essential workers.”

“We are still waiting for the Virginia Department of Health to give us the final word on who falls within Phase 1B,” Goodman said. “The CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices has put forth a list of recommendations for Phase 1B, but local health departments have to wait for confirmation from the state health department on who falls into that phase.”

The CDC’s guidelines group 1B essential workers as:

  • First responders, e.g., firefighters and police officers (though some are considered healthcare workers and vaccinated during Phase 1A)
  • Corrections officers
  • Food and agricultural workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Grocery store workers
  • Public transit workers
  • Those who work in education, e.g., teachers and support staff
  • Childcare workers

Once a final list is approved by the state health department, BRHD will begin “capturing” all the essential employers in the district in order to create a database of qualified workers, Goodman said. 

The process for registering the essential workers will look much like healthcare workers, she added. Names provided by employers will be given online accounts through which they may schedule the vaccination appointments.

The district is still working out how individuals over 75 will get access.

Phase 1C

The following phase, 1C, poses yet more challenges. It includes a smattering of other essential workers, individuals 65-74 and anyone with a high-risk medical condition.

“The at-risk individuals are going to be a little bit trickier,” Goodman said.

It’s still unclear what will constitute a high-risk medical condition, she said. The state health department has yet to work out how it will verify a person belongs to that group. And, most importantly, there is no clear-cut way to reach everyone who qualifies.

“That’s where we’re really going to spread the word in a different way,” Goodman said. “So, we’ll be relying heavily on our media partners, community leaders, faith-based organizations. It will be a big heavy lift; we’ll need everyone in the community to help communicate who’s next.”

In the coming months, the BRHD plans to open more vaccination locations around the district, Goodman said.

Officials still anticipate the vaccine becoming available to the general public sometime in either late spring or early summer.