As Pfizer's coronavirus vaccines arrive in America, local health officials are preparing to administer initial doses.

Dr. Wade Kartchner, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District’s director, explained that the vaccines will initially be given to healthcare workers and will likely not be available to the general public until sometime after February. With that in mind, he said it is more important than ever for people to continue washing hands, practice social distancing, wearing masks and not going to work if they are sick.

Virginia received 480,000 doses of the vaccines, which will be stored at 18 facilities throughout the state that have the necessary storage capabilities. Kartchner explained the first local vaccinations will go to the Novant Health UVA Health System and its front-line responders.

The vaccine will be administered in three phases, according to an informational PowerPoint presentation released by the health district.

Phase one has three subsections including the current “phase 1A,” during which vaccines will be given to health care workers and individuals living in and working at long-term care facilities. In subsequent portions of phase one, vaccines will be given to essential workers such as law enforcement officers and high-risk adults.

Halley Goldin, Novant Health UVA Health System’s public relations specialist, stated via email that there is not “much to share at the moment” regarding the vaccines.

“We anticipate receiving our vaccines early this week and will begin vaccinations for our team members as soon as possible,” she said on Monday.

Kartchner explained that doses will likely be shipped every Friday. The health district - which is composed of Culpeper, Rappahannock, Fauquier, Madison and Orange counties - has requested 300 initial doses, which should arrive Dec. 28. Those doses will be given to emergency personnel, health care providers outside of the UVA system and front-line law enforcement personnel.

The health district, Kartchner said, is working with the five localities’ emergency managers to identify locations where the vaccines will be administered.

As of Dec. 14, Virginia Department of Health statistics show that 2,558 total cases have been reported in Culpeper County since spring, 1,895 in Fauquier County, 728 in Orange County, 237 in Madison County and 122 in Rappahannock County.

The health district’s presentation notes that some individuals and businesses will likely want the vaccine before it is their turn but “it is critical that we follow the priority groups.” Although some people will never want to be vaccinated, the presentation notes that “education campaigns are being developed at the state level.”

Regarding those who are dubious of the vaccines, Kartchner said “the research done on the vaccines is the same research that’s done on any new vaccine that comes out.”

“The same number of people that have received the vaccine in the trials is the same as any new vaccine that comes out,” he said, adding that trials have determined the vaccines have a "very good safety profile." 

Kartchner asked health district residents to “understand that this is a very fluid situation.”

“We may not have all the answers that people want right now but we’re working with all five counties to identify those personnel in those priority groups that are going to need the vaccinations first. So the details will be coming out quickly, and as soon as we have them we’ll share them with folks. But right now there’s still a lot of planning going on and a lot of discussions,” he said.

The health district will be posting a link on its website so businesses can relay their interest in the vaccinations.

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