Starting the first week of March, the Virginia Department of Health and Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital will have a weekly COVID-19 vaccination site Wednesdays at the Franklin Center in Rocky Mount.
These Wednesday clinics, which are intended to service Franklin County residents who are 65 and older, will be allotted only 100 doses each week, said Penny Hall, chief operations officer for West Piedmont Health District. Hall was addressing the Franklin County Board of Supervisors during their regular meeting Tuesday.
An appointment at the clinic — at any VDH-run vaccination clinic — is invitation-only. To be invited, county residents must preregister at the new state health department web address that went live Tuesday, vaccinate.virginia.gov. Filling out the online line forms will get you a registration number. The health department will contact you through the means you specify — phone call, text or email — once a slot becomes available. “You’re not going to get an immediate call,” Hall said.
Union Hall District Representative Tommy Cundiff noted that many county residents don’t have computers or internet access. Hall told him that a toll-free number for people who cannot use computers is also in the works. [On Wednesday in a news briefing, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the number 1-877-VAX-IN-VA or 1-877-829-4682.]
Health district officials came up with the Franklin Center clinic in response to feedback from county officials and community partners, Hall said. The clinic is meant to ensure that eligible county residents from that age group will have a chance to get vaccinated every week at a well-known site where there won’t be a long wait and social distancing can be observed.
At present the West Piedmont Health District receives about 1,600 vaccine doses per week out of the 129,000 per week that Virginia receives from the federal government. “While that’s minimal, at least it’s a consistent weekly allocation, we can count on it,” Hall said.
The district apportions those 1,600 doses to partners such as hospitals and pharmacies in Franklin, Henry and Patrick counties and Martinsville, and the amount distributed to each locality can vary from week to week, Hall said. “Every week somebody doesn’t get something.”
As the health department has worked with partners to distribute the vaccine in Franklin County, clinics have been held at various locations, including the health department office in Rocky Mount, Carilion Franklin Memorial and the Harvester Performance Center. The vaccination pods at the Franklin Center are “just a way to have a steady fixture each week in addition to the other clinics,” Hall said.
The program’s focus and schedule could change in subsequent weeks. “This is a very fluid situation,” Hall said.
Several supervisors criticized the slow rollout of the vaccine and shared the confusion their constituents have expressed about trying to get vaccination appointments. Rocky Mount District Supervisor Mike Carter said it’s “pitiful” that the West Piedmont district, with a total population of about 136,000, only receives 1,600 doses a week. “I am disappointed in our state. I am disappointed in our governor,” he said.
Health districts in the state receive a weekly number of doses proportionate to the district’s population, Hall said. The limited supply of vaccine is the ultimate source of the problem, and as the supply increases the state will be able to distribute it faster.
“We have the infrastructure built,” Hall said. “We’re ready.”