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February 19, 2021

Those on the vaccination front lines deserve praise

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The vaccination clinic at Germanna Community College in Culpeper on Wednesday afternoon.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
The phone displayed an unfamiliar number from Louisa — probably another spam call on a quiet Sunday morning.

Then, Ellen’s phone rang with the same number.

After it went to voicemail, Ellen called back.

Stephanie said she could schedule our vaccinations.

Weeks earlier, we dutifully had completed surveys on the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District’s website to request appointments for shots to help start the end of this pandemic that has left us somewhat isolated, anxious and often bored.

We received acknowledgements by email but had no idea when our turns would come.

Last fall, I started thinking about what a mass vaccination effort would look like. Health department officials at that point could provide no details. So much remained unknown.

My vague memories include waiting in line outside the Luray Elementary School cafeteria for vaccinations against polio (via sugar cubes) and smallpox (via a jet injector) in the early 1960s. It seemed the whole town took part.

But, the COVID-19 vaccinations would present greater challenges, including the two-shot regime over three or four weeks and the need for people to stick around for 15 minutes in case of allergic reactions.

Achieving “herd immunity” would require vaccinating 70 percent of the population or more. At minimum, that would mean injecting 50,000 people in Fauquier — with 100,000 shots.

Meanwhile, the health district’s small staff continued to grind on “contact tracing,” public information, planning, coordination, reporting and countless other tasks — seven days a week.

The coming vaccination logistics seemed daunting.

I heard speculation about using the Fauquier County Fairgrounds as a site.

Then, in mid-December the five-county region began receiving its first doses of vaccine, administered to healthcare workers and others at greatest risk. The effort expanded to educators and into nursing homes, with pharmacies handling that sector. In late January, those at least 65 — and younger people with medical conditions — qualified.

But, I began to get calls and emails from people frustrated with their attempts to register. Those who tried to sign up by phone really struggled, and the website briefly stopped accepting new applicants. Demand overwhelmed supply.

Then, Fauquier Health hosted a clinic that administered 405 doses in one day. County government began training agents and a week later opened a local call center to help folks who struggled with online registration.

The health department announced plans for vaccination clinics in a vacant Warrenton Village Center retail space and at Germanna Community College in Culpeper.

Solutions came from within, thanks to the region’s Reserve Medical Corps volunteers and local government employees, including paramedics.

The news about vaccine availability improved and the state gradually overcame glitches in the supply chain, dependent upon coordinating with the federal government.

Feeling more optimistic, Ellen and I left home early Wednesday afternoon for our 1:30 appointments at Germanna in Culpeper.

We arrived to a packed parking lot and a long line of people braced against the cold — some in wheelchairs and some using walkers — outside the building.

The parking lot attendant who greeted us explained that, because of an icy forecast, the crowd also included all of the people originally scheduled for Thursday.

But, as health department representatives had predicted, we headed home 45 minutes later with the first doses of Moderna vaccine in our bloodstreams.

Along the way, a small army of volunteers and health department employees pleasantly and efficiently took care of us.

Uncertainty, anger, fear and hope have swirled constantly since last March as all of us tried to cope with the pandemic’s surreal nature.

One could reasonably doubt whether we’d overcome our situation.

And, with months to go, this story’s ending remains unwritten — especially in such a politically divisive time.

The response of local government and the five-county Rappahannock Rapidan Health District should encourage us, however.

Again, my roots certainly color my glasses. My father worked 40 years at Shenandoah National Park. He and most of his coworkers — virtually all male in those days — came home from World War II and applied their military discipline to civil service jobs. They took great pride in getting things done and done well.

So, despite abundant criticism of government over the last few decades, I start with the expectation it will work effectively.

Pulling back the lens, I submit we must come out of this pandemic with more empathy and patience, along with greater appreciation for government competency.

I see it in our community.

Wednesday’s clinic at Germanna administered 870 doses of vaccine, according to Dr. Wade Kartchner, the five-county health district’s medical director.

In an email Thursday afternoon, Dr. Kartchner noted that 13.7 percent of the district’s residents had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Feb. 18, compared to 12.6 percent statewide.

“That is a tremendous accomplishment for our partners and for our team,” he said. “I know they don’t hear it enough, but I am so proud of the work they are doing.

“I also know there are many detractors out there (we hear from them daily), but I truly feel that most of the negativity dissipates when they understand the constraints we are under regarding vaccine availability or when they visit our Germanna clinic for their own vaccine and see how the operation flows.

“We also continue to receive positive feedback and I know our team would appreciate a shoutout now and then to help them continue the pace they are setting.”

I agree. The “small but mighty team” deserves our appreciation, our praise and our fortitude.

“We will get through this and come out of this stronger and more resilient,” Dr. Kartchner said. “Please, be patient.”

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.
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Tom LaHaye · February 23, 2021 at 12:35 pm
I learned Sunday that personal friends, who registered 17 days after me, were vaccinated last week. I wrote a scathing email to VDH and received a "Be patient, Trust us" response. My follow-up email was less polite. I then learned that ny friends had in fact registered before me, on January 15, and growing impatient, registered again on February 6. My next email was an apology.

I agree, the system is a kluge, with initial survey responses (registrations) in one system supposedly migrating to a second system, and now that system data moving to a state-wide system. There has also been difficulty with visibilty of some health department data (including RRHD) in the state-wide system. The lack of transparency, coupled with the stress of the pandemic itself leads to frustration pretty quickly, but the person I dealt with at VDH could not have been more professional and sympathetic to my concerns, and now that I understand the timing of my friends' initial registration, I have much more confidence that the data migrations across systems worked. They would not have been called otherwise.

Bottom line . . . my trust is restored, and I will be patient, for now.
youcantfixstupid · February 20, 2021 at 1:27 pm
"Pulling back the lens, I submit we must come out of this pandemic with more empathy and patience, along with greater appreciation for government competency." What world are you living in? Virginia has a governor that dressed up like the KKK and put on black face. The Lieutenant governor raped several women and the AG did blackface too. Virginia had a vaccination list with the health department, a list at CVS and now a centralized waiting list. Most of us have no idea where we are on the list or if we are on it at all. This is SNAFU!! "Greater appreciation for government"?
Bekemp · February 20, 2021 at 5:59 am
My wife and I were among the 870 vaccinated last Wednesday at Germanna. It was extremely well run from start to finish from our perspective. A big "thank you" to all involved.
Ursula · February 19, 2021 at 6:24 pm
I had my first shot at Fauquier Hospital on January 28th and will have my second on Feb 25. Lovely people working, no waiting and smiles all around. Ursula
Conditd · February 19, 2021 at 4:31 pm
Things might be going smoothly once your notified but the RRHD and state wide database is a mess. I registered almost a month ago, it took three phone calls and three emails to receive notification I was on the list, as of 6 Feb 2021 and now with the state database I am nowhere to be found! Virginia is a MESS!
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