Virginians age 65 and older who have registered for COVID-19 vaccines with their local health departments but want to try to obtain vaccines through CVS' new program that begins this week must register with CVS separately, health department officials said Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Health spent the past several days working with CVS to try to upload the names of residents who have registered with the department to the CVS database.  However, technical issues prevented that, said Dr. Danny Avula, who is leading the state’s vaccination efforts.

The state then asked CVS to open its website early so local health department employees could book appointments for Virginians already on the their registration lists, but CVS could not limit access to the site.  That meant that Virginians bombarded the CVS appointment website when it opened Tuesday, and all appointments available through the site were quickly filled.   

“Several of the [local] health directors likened it to people getting the best concert tickets because they were ready to go on the website,” Avula said.

Avula emphasized that the CVS vaccinations are available only for residents aged 65 and older and that those who did make appointments should be prepared to show identification to prove their age.  He said the state specifically asked CVS not to offer appointments to residents under the age of 65 with underlying health conditions, because the older residents are most susceptible to hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

CVS expects to administer 26,000 doses a week in the state, and additional appointments will become available through the retailer’s web site in coming days, health officials said.  The chain initially identified 28 locations for the vaccines, none of which was in Northern Virginia, but has added new locations in recent days, including some in the region

When residents go to the CVS site to make an appointment, they will see a list of available vaccination sites nearby.  In addition, CVS expects to roll out additional locations when more vaccine doses become available.

While acknowledging that the roll out of the CVS program was not ideal, Avula said, “At the end of the day we are thankful that it’s a way to pull down more vaccine into Virginia.”

The 26,000 doses a week represent about a 20% increase in the amount of vaccines available statewide.

The failure of the CVS system to link with Virginia’s registration system also means that local health departments may try to schedule vaccine appointments for residents on their list who have already scheduled a vaccination through CVS.  The information about their CVS vaccination wouldn’t be uploaded into the state’s system until after they are vaccinated.

“There will be some unnecessary work done as we reach out and schedule people,” Avula said. He noted, though, that as more people are vaccinated by CVS, spots will become for others on Virginia’s list.

Nevertheless, Avula said he understood Virginians’ frustrations and noted that the state has been trying to be as equitable as possible and to ensure that residents without Internet access have equal opportunity to sign up for vaccines. “That’s what we’re fighting for. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to work it out in this scenario.”

Walgreens, Walmart and major grocery chains are expected to begin rolling out vaccination programs in the coming weeks, and Avula said the state would try to work with each of those as well.

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