Prince William County is lagging behind nearly all other Northern Virginia localities in vaccinating residents against COVID-19, and nearly 50,000 people are on the local waitlist for their first dose.
As a result, County Executive Chris Martino told the Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday, it could be months before many area residents are vaccinated.
“We’ve got quite a backlog that’s going to take us some time to work through,” Martino said.
The local vaccinations are managed by the Virginia Department of Health’s Prince William Health District, which also includes the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. Citing complaints and confusion from residents regarding the vaccine process, county supervisors have peppered health district and county officials with questions and demands for additional details during their meetings both last week and this week.
As of Wednesday, according to state health department data, 42,345 doses of vaccine had been administered to residents in the health district, with 8,314 people having received the two doses that are required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be fully effective.
That translates to 9,003 doses per 100,000 residents in the health district, the next-to-lowest rate among all Northern Virginia localities, just ahead of Arlington at 8,970 doses per 100,000 residents. Prince William’s population is about 470,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimate.
Among other area localities, Fauquier County leads in per-capita vaccinations at 11,633 per 100,000 people, with Fairfax County just behind at 11,457 per 100,000. Fairfax is the state’s most populous locality, with over 1.1 million residents.
In a news briefing last month, Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccination coordinator, said that localities with large health-care systems, such as Inova, could have more residents vaccinated on a per capita basis due to the number of residents who work at the facility and were vaccinated in the first phase.
Brain Misner, Prince William’s emergency management coordinator, told the supervisors Tuesday that the numbers are based on where people live, not where they received their shots.
Misner said the Prince William Health District, which has established three vaccination clinics, had administered 15,090 vaccines as of Feb. 6. The remainder of the vaccines administered to residents of the health district have come primarily from health-care providers, such as Inova, Novant and Sentara, or at long-term care facilities.
Misner said that as of Monday, 48,899 people were on the waitlist for a first dose. Of those, 1,232 have been scheduled for appointments. Residents age 65 and older and those under age 65 with significant underlying health conditions are eligible to register for vaccines through the health department’s website.
Misner said 8,839 people are pre-registered for their second dose, with 423 appointments scheduled.
The vaccination process became more complicated this week as CVS Pharmacy started taking appointments to administer vaccines beginning Friday. CVS selected only one location for vaccines in Prince William, Virginia’s second-most populous locality.
Misner said that decision was made at either the state or federal level with no input from local health officials.
“What I know is that none of us chose this location and [having] only one location in the county,” said Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville.
About the time of Misner’s presentation to the Prince William board, Avula told reporters in another briefing that CVS’ original plan for Virginia consisted of just 28 locations – none of which was in Northern Virginia. The state worked with CVS to add some additional locations, targeting lower-income communities or areas where COVID-19 had been more prevalent.
However, CVS is using a different registration system than the local health department, so residents who want to try to obtain a vaccine through CVS need to sign up directly with the pharmacy chain, Avula said. CVS vaccines are available only to residents age 65 and older. The pharmacy plans to administer 26,000 doses a week statewide.
Supervisors Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, and Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, asked Misner whether local organizations or houses of worship could be leveraged to better reach minority communities.
“I think as we look to expand our efforts to provide vaccines, we need to do a much better job of partnering with minority communities to identify where are those places of trust we can target to make sure we can get those vaccines out to the communities who need it,” Candland said.
Misner said the problem is that the Virginia Department of Health doesn’t want to constantly move locations because of logistics.
“They are telling us at this time in their response that they need to hold to one or two fixed sites maximum,” Misner said.
The health department has operated a vaccine clinic at George Mason University’s Manassas campus since mid-January and opened clinics at Potomac Middle School in Dumfries and the Prince William school system’s Kelly Leadership Center in Independent Hill last week.
Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, said the state needs better coordination with local governments.
“We need to make sure that our state understands what’s actually happening on the ground,” she said. “We are the people on the ground actually seeing where these gaps are.”