A translation problem on the Virginia Department of Health website apparently has been telling Spanish readers they don’t need the coronavirus vaccine.
The issue came up during a Virginia Vaccination Advisory Workgroup telemeeting Monday. Dr. Rebecca Vargas-Jackson, a member of the group, said her students at George Mason University were the first to bring it to her attention. Before the faulty translation, the English passage simply meant the vaccine wasn’t mandatory, she said.
“There is nothing worse than providing misleading information to people that are looking for some answers,” Vargas-Jackson said.
Health department staff at the meeting said they would “escalate” her concern. The mistake could have serious consequences in a state where Latino people are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill.
Public health officials are urging everyone who is medically able to receive the vaccine. Gov. Ralph Northam called it “the most powerful tool” against the pandemic, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told Virginians last week that 70% to 85% of the population must get the shots in order to achieve “herd immunity,” meaning the virus can’t easily spread because enough people have been vaccinated.
The Monday meeting laid bare some of the hitches the state is facing one month into the largest and most complex vaccination campaign in a century.
Dr. Stuart Henochowicz, another workgroup member, said the Fairfax County Health Department didn’t schedule people who had received a vaccine for their second shots. Several members talked about long waits to get through to local health departments for questions or scheduling on the phone.
So far Virginia has received more than half a million doses from Pfizer and Moderna vaccines combined. About 190,000 of them have been injected into Virginians’ arms, according to state health department data. Only 15,130 people, in a state of 8.5 million, have been fully vaccinated with both the first and second doses.
Health care workers, emergency medical technicians and long-term care residents and staff are able to get the shots. And Monday marked the first day some individuals in the 1b priority group, so-called “front line essential workers” and people over 75, were eligible to receive the vaccine, too.
Christy Gray, immunizations director for the state health department, said Virginia has been criticized for being behind other states in its distribution. The state appears to be lagging, based on numbers posted on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. But Gray said there are a lot of variables that make comparisons difficult.
“The media and the public, I think it’s natural to try to rank and look at what we can do better,” she said.
For Virginia, she said, the perceived lag is largely on the vaccinators’ end. Password issues and computer systems not connecting caused some of the delays in reporting immunizations. Doses administered are growing in the system as those technical issues are being smoothed over, she said.
Public health officials announced through social media Sunday two new tools to help guide Virginians on when and where their vaccines would be available. One is a map that shows the vaccine phase each city and county is in. The other is a quiz to determine a person’s vaccine priority group. The state is also planning to launch a new vaccine management scheduling took, PrepMod, at the end of January for local health departments to use.
Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine distribution coordinator, said about 1,100 health care providers and 166 pharmacies have been approved to give COVID-19 vaccines thus far.
But mass vaccination infrastructure seems to be lacking, he said, and hospital systems can’t do all of the heavy-lifting. The state will need much more participation from others to reach the vast majority of communities. He’ll be working with the National Guard and Virginia Medical Reserve Corps as vaccines become available to more people.
“The hospitals also have responsibilities to their patients, their acute care patients,” he said. “There’s a little bit of hesitation about once they get beyond their staff, will they be able to commit resources to community vaccination … some hospitals are going to be able to do more than others.”
Virginia Vaccination Plan
Phase 1a: health care workers, emergency medical technicians and long-term care residents and staff.
Most health care workers are being vaccinated through their employers, and some others are getting it through local health departments. Long-term care residents and staff are receiving vaccines through a federal partnership program with CVS and Walgreens. The chains are providing vaccines directly at those facilities.
Phase 1b: front-line essential workers, people ages 75 and up, incarcerated people, people in homeless shelters and people in migrant labor camps.
Where? Select health districts.
Front-line essential workers include police, fire fighters, hazmat, homeless shelter workers, inmates in correctional facilities, childcare workers, pre-K-12 teachers and staff, food and agriculture workers, veterinarians, manufacturers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, mail carriers, judges and other workers needed to maintain “continuity of government.”
Local health departments, pharmacies, hospital systems and employers are cooperating to vaccinate front-line essential workers. People over age 75 will be offered the vaccine through their health care providers. Others will be able to access vaccination through their local health department or through arrangements with healthcare systems and pharmacies. State, regional and local correctional facilities will handle vaccines on their sites.
Phase 1c: other essential workers, people ages 65 to 74, people ages 16 to 64 and have high-risk health conditions or disabilities that increase their risk
Where? Nowhere yet.
The other essential workers include energy; waste, wastewater, and waste removal workers (includes recycling removal workers); housing construction; food service; transportation and logistics; institutions of higher education faculty and staff; finance; IT; media; legal services; public safety engineers; and other public health workers.
Most essential workers will get their vaccines from their employers. Local health departments, pharmacies and health care systems are working collaboratively to vaccinate them.
Most people who are in the group because of their age or medical conditions will be offered the vaccine through their health care provider. Others will get it through their local health department or arrangements with healthcare systems and pharmacies.
Elisha Sauers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-222-3864