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Prince William Health District Clinic Efficiently Administers Vaccinations Despite Setbacks

| January 22, 2021 | 0 Comments | News

School nurse and MRC volunteer Elizabeth Gonzalez works a vaccination station on her day off.

The COVID-19 vaccination process was running smoothly for the Prince William Health District at George Mason University’s Manassas Campus’s Beacon Hill Building, Jan. 20. This is despite Virginia receiving only 1/5 of expected vaccinations this week.

The Prince William Health District moved its operation to the new larger location Tuesday to provide COVID-19 vaccination more efficiently. The health district had been operating out of Metz Middle School, in Manassas City, since Dec. 28.

Staffing is no longer the biggest challenge for the Prince William Health District, which serves Prince William County, Manassas City and Manassas Park residents and employees.

And despite expected shortages, the district is honoring all COVID-19 vaccination appointments. A pause on future vaccine appointments should ensure it continues to do so. As of Wednesday, more than 25,000 residents were already on the new waitlist the district created, according to the health district.

Medical Reserve Corp volunteers and salaried Prince William County school nurses staffed the GMU vaccination center. The group effort allows the center serves 320 people per day, six days a week, administering first and second doses of the Moderna COVID-19.

“I think it’s running beautifully,” said nurse Elizabeth Gonzalez. People receiving the vaccine feel fortunate. “They’re very excited to receive the vaccine.”

The GMU clinic can serve 340 people a day. That’s only 2/3rds of the 560 per day goal the district had set for itself. The health district workers need to consider availability, space and the need to social distance. Many people, especially the elderly, bring another person to aide them explained Prince William Health District Communications Director, Kathy Stewart. “There was the need to use more space for social distancing.”

The lobby check in process is quick with people social distanced and overflow standing outside the building.

Area residents know that vaccinations are difficult to obtain. As a result, people who are getting the vaccine in January often feel like they’ve won the lottery. People are generally cheerful when they enter the building.

“People come here because they want to come in and get the vaccine,” said Kathy O’Shea, RN and MRC volunteer, and school nurse at Patriot High School. “Some people are a little nervous, but there’s been no real problems or reactions. So far so good.”

Employees of the health district confirmed they have not seen any bad or unusual reactions. Some people have shown symptoms of anxiety and dizziness, which may have been a result of hunger.

Those anticipating their appointments should take comfort in that it is a simple undertaking. Appoints last 40 minutes at the most. Patients should arrive approximately 10 minutes early. Check in takes 5-10 minutes in the lobby. The vaccine takes just a minute or two and then the person must sit in large room where they will be monitored for 15 minutes. Those with more health concerns must stay for 30 minutes. There is a separate room, cot and EMS workers for those who may have adverse reactions.

Walk-ins are never accepted. Currently, the Prince William Health District has appointments scheduled through Feb. 15.

People should not call to confirm their appointments said Stewart, even if they were made via the previous system. If they have an appointment, it is standing, and calling just wastes valuable resources at a time the health district is overburdened Stewart explained.

MRC volunteer prepares for the clinic to open.

Those trying to make new appointments this will find the health district has switched to a waitlist system. The federal government did not delivering the alleged “reserve.” This has limited health districts around the nation.

“We are not unique,” said Amanda David, COVID-19 Response Coordinator for the Prince William Health District.

David believes the waitlist is an efficient way to get people into the system.

“People want the vaccine, and it is a scarce commodity. We’ve gotten everyone on the waitlist who wants the vaccine, so when the vaccines comes in we can hit the ground running. Everyone is dealing with the same things,” David said.

Stewarts asks that people be patient. “This is where we are, and we have to do the best we can.”

Nurses noted this is probably the biggest undertaking of this kind for the health department. They previously administered H1N1 vaccines during that pandemic, but not to this extent, and not with masks and social distancing.

The Vaccine Appointment Registration Process

Those who have already signed up through the old system, have those appointments.

The Prince William Health District has made the process easier through a new registration system on its website. It is no longer required that every person signing up for a vaccination use a unique email address.

Those who have already signed up through the old system, have those appointments. Those making new appointments do need to register each person separately.

People on the waitlist will be serviced according to the phase the county is in, and then according to the Virginia’s priority list. Within those categories, it is first come, first serve. People who fall within 1a and 1b can now register via the waiting list. That includes those 65 or older and those with qualifying health conditions.

The Health Department will contact people on the waitlist to schedule their appointments when a slot is available for them. Those people in category 1c and later, should not register for the waitlist at this time.

Each vaccination station is distanced from the next.

While moving through 1b professions, the health department will not prioritize people once their window has closed. They will have to go to the back of the line. David recommends that people take advantage of the vaccine when it is available to them, and not wait.

The Prince William Health Department is making sure that it has enough vaccines for those who need their second dose and plan to honor all appointments before making new ones.

David said things could change at any minutes, and hopefully there will be more vaccines available that will allow them to schedule more appointments.

Other Means to Vaccination Appointments

The Prince William Health Department has reached out to community partners to have them administer the vaccines as well especially for employers, but it is not as widespread as they would like at this time, and they are not providing much information on those resources.

Prince William County Schools have made arrangements with INOVA Fairfax and NOVANT Health Systems to vaccinate its employees. Employees will receive notification with an instruction on how to schedule their appointments. While vaccines are supplied by the Prince William Health District, hospitals will take control of processing and administering those vaccinations and the registration system is separate as well.

The health department is reaching out to other agencies, schools and businesses to help them make appointments for their colleagues within the appropriate phase.

Those who have an opportunity to receive a vaccine quicker via their employer should cancel their preexisting appoints. The health department are makes available the exact amount needed per day. Thus far, everyone is showing up for their appointments.

Response to the Vaccine

Several volunteers work the check in stations moving people along quickly.

Due to HIPAA [Health Information Protection and Accountability Act], media was not allowed to witness people receiving the vaccination within at the facility. However, outside the Beacon Building, was a short line of grateful people waiting to check in to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

Amy, a local teacher from Alexandria, made her appointment over a week ago, and felt extremely fortunate to be getting her shot. “I’m tearful all day for a lot of reasons,” she said, referring the Presidential Inauguration. “It’s a great day to get a shot. A lot of tears.”

Bob Gramm of Haymarket qualified based on being a senior. He also felt very fortunate. “It’s been a long time coming,” but believes that the health department moved “very fast,” since he made an appointment just nine days prior. “I wish everybody had them.”

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two does weeks apart. Stewart warns that even after receiving the vaccine experts believe people can still spread the virus. Everyone needs to continue to wear their masks, social distance and wash their hands. COVID-19 is a big threat and the vaccine is one way to deal with it, but people must keep precautionary measures in place.

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