Fairfax County has exceeded President Joe Biden’s goal for COVID-19 vaccines, but county health officials are still working to reach those on the margins who are not yet vaccinated.
According to Virginia Department of Health data updated Friday, 72.8% of people 18 and older in Fairfax have received at least one vaccine dose and 63.8% are fully vaccinated. Biden had set a goal of 70% of adults having at least one dose by July 4.
Fairfax has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state and the second highest in Northern Virginia, behind Loudoun County. But local health officials say the numbers still need to be higher to reach community immunity.
“We want to make sure every eligible adult is vaccinated to stop the spread and resurgence of the disease,” said Sharon Arndt, director of community health development for the Fairfax County Health Department. “If we want to stop the spread of the disease and protect the most vulnerable, we need to vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Arndt, who is also leading the department’s COVID response team, said that for the past few months her team has focused on increasing vaccination rates in areas such as Springfield’s 22150 Zip code, where the population is generally lower income and experiences higher rates of disease according to the county’s vulnerability index.
To help increase vaccination rates, the county has partnered with businesses, such as the Springfield Town Center and Safeway, to make it more convenient for people to be vaccinated. Springfield Town Center donated one of its retail spaces for the health department to use as a temporary pop-up clinic, and Safeway provides and administers the vaccines there.
“These vaccine equity clinics are really seeking to lower the barriers to accessing vaccine,” Arndt said.
Since moving to Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, the health department has been focused on implementing its vaccine equity strategy to target vulnerable populations, usually low income and people of color, who are at higher risk of becoming severely ill and dying from COVID.
Many Fairfax residents who fit into these two categories generally have more difficulty accessing the vaccine because they may lack transportation, don’t have the flexibility to get time off work, don’t have reliable internet or face language barriers, among other challenges.
To help residents overcome some of these obstacles, the health department has been setting up temporary vaccination sites, called “vaccine equity sites,” around the county in places where there is a higher number of COVID cases and lower vaccination rates.
Springfield Town Center is one of those sites.
“We felt that we'd make a good location because we are in such close proximity to a lot of public transportation options as well as the ample parking,” said Eric Christensen, general manager of the mall. He noted that the bus stop at the mall is served by the Fairfax Connector bus lines, and the mall is a short walk from the Franconia/Springfield Metro station.
Other temporary vaccination sites include local businesses, mobile vans, community centers and parking lots. The hope is that opening clinics closer to where people live will make it easier for them to be vaccinated, and residents will have access to health professionals who can address their concerns about being vaccinated.
Arndt said the county has been working with community partners, such as nonprofits and churches, to spread awareness about how and where to get the vaccine, and some of those partners have let the health department use their facilities for vaccine clinics.
John Mitchell, a senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Springfield, said the church provided information to its congregation about where to be vaccinated in Springfield and offered to let the county use its parking lot for a week as a temporary vaccination site in April.
“It was a good opportunity for us to come alongside the health department and support people in getting vaccines, making them available in the community,” he added.
And while many people in First Baptist’s congregation are mostly older and already vaccinated, Mitchell noted that the church also has a large Hispanic and Ethiopian population who had not been vaccinated.
“We were intentional to use our language liaison to get the word out,” he said. “People were receptive.”
While the health department and community organizations say the county's vaccine equity strategy is helping to bridge the gap between vaccines and those who want the shot, it is still not clear to what extent it’s reaching low income and minority residents.
The Fairfax County Health Department updated its COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard this week to…
Arndt said that demographic data, such as race and ethnicity, on who has been vaccinated at the Springfield Town Center site is difficult to capture. Walk-ins usually don’t want demographic information recorded, and the data collected by the pre-registration system for appointments is not easily accessible to county officials, she explained.
“While it's reported to the state, it is harder to pull back for the specific clinic,” Arndt added.
Race and ethnicity data are accessible on Fairfax’s vaccination dashboard, but that data is not complete. The dashboard includes percentages of white, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black and Latino populations who have been vaccinated by the county, but those percentages make up only about 28% of all people vaccinated in the Fairfax Health District.
The Springfield Town Center site opened April 15 and is expected to remain open through the end of June, Arndt said. However, the clinic may remain open longer if there is demand.
Through June 7, Safeway had administered 3,271 vaccine shots at the Springfield Town Center clinic; 2,225 Pfizer, 692 Moderna, and 324 Johnson & Johnson.
“The neighborhoods that we are going to are intentional,” Arndt said. “They are neighborhoods where we've seen lower vaccination rates just like Springfield...we're connecting them to the vaccine.”