Phase 1B expanded to include people with underlying medical conditions and those over 65

Just two weeks after beginning to vaccinate Phase 1A frontline medical workers, the Blue Ridge Health District on Monday opened up COVID-19 vaccines to individuals in Phase 1B.

The district has not yet finished vaccinating area healthcare workers in Phase 1A. It will give vaccines to both groups simultaneously.

It was unclear at the time of publication how many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated in the district. There are roughly 8,000 people in the district who qualify as healthcare workers but do not work for a hospital. Hospitals are vaccinating their own staff.

Officials are quick to caution that while appointments may be scheduled immediately, it could take “some time” for people who qualify in 1B to get their vaccines.

“We don’t want people to think they’re all going to get vaccinated next week because, unfortunately, that’s not the case,” said Kathryn Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health District. “It will be a process. Phase 1B includes a lot of people.”

According to Gov. Ralph Northam, around half the people in the state now qualify as part of 1B. Last week, the governor expanded the phase to include individuals with high-risk medical conditions and anyone over 65, on top of certain essential workers.

The local Health District on Monday began “capturing” the information for individuals in this phase, Goodman said. 

People who qualify based on age or underlying medical condition can either fill out an online survey or call the health department’s hotline — (434) 972-6261 — to get in line for an appointment.

“The survey is not scheduling an appointment,” Goodman said. “We’ll follow up with you when an appointment becomes available.”

Qualifying high-risk medical conditions, as approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2, but < 30 kg/m2)
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
  • Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Down Syndrome
  • Smoking/Vaping (more than 20 days a month)
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

For now, the district does not require people to verify they have a qualifying medical condition, Goodman said. Though, local officials are awaiting “more guidance” from the state health department.

Qualified essential workers must be registered with the district by their employers through a similar online survey.

Essential jobs that fall into Phase 1B include:

  • Police, Fire, Hazmat (who weren’t identified in Phase 1A)
  • Corrections and homeless shelter workers
  • Childcare/K-12 Teachers/Staff
  • Food and Agriculture (Food Packaging and Distribution)
  • Manufacturing
  • Grocery Store Workers
  • Public Transportation Workers
  • Mail carriers (USPS and private)
  • 911 Emergency Communications Center
  • Officials needed to maintain continuity of government 

Phase 1B also includes incarcerated people and anyone living in homeless shelters.

“We are working on how we’re going to vaccinate individuals who are incarcerated and individuals who are experiencing homelessness,” Goodman said. “Those are priority groups as well who fall into Phase 1B.”