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Buckingham County could host mass vaccine center

Buckingham is gearing up for its first big vaccine clinic to be held later this month, but the county may soon find itself to be the location of a statewide, mass-vaccination center that could have the potential to inoculate more than 3,000 Virginians per day.

At the Monday, March 8, Buckingham County Board of Supervisors meeting, Buckingham Emergency Management Services Director Cody Davis approached the board for approval to use the community center attached to the Buckingham County Library for a large vaccination event to be held toward the end of the month.

The initial event would put vaccine doses in the arms of approximately 500 county citizens.

Joining Davis via phone call was Piedmont Health District Emergency Manager David Martin.

Davis and Martin said the event, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and now scheduled for March 18, would help to alleviate much of the backlog of Phase 1b residents who have yet to receive the vaccine.

Martin added there are approximately between 800 and 900 residents on the waiting list for a vaccine.

Davis and Martin stated this may be the first of several clinics in the county.

Health department officials are hopeful the vaccine used at the clinic may be the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which can be administered in a single dose, eliminating the need for a follow-up clinic approximately four weeks later.

The board unanimously approved the use of the community center for a vaccine clinic and also approved to put forward $100,000 of reimbursable CARES Act funds to be used toward vaccine clinics in the county.

Gene Stewart, chief regional coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), then approached the board to discuss an opportunity regarding establishing a community vaccine center (CVC) at the same location.

Stewart explained to supervisors VDEM in partnership with local government and VDH has been on the lookout for possible CVC locations throughout the state that could be used to distribute large numbers of vaccine doses to people from all over the commonwealth in anticipation of vaccines becoming plentiful throughout Virginia.

Stewart added all localities in Virginia have been placed in tier levels based off of the health, age and ethnic background of their residents. Buckingham, classified as a tier 2 locality, is considered to be a high priority for vaccine distribution.

VDEM, he said, was blown away by the county’s new community center, which Stewart believes has the capacity to vaccinate “at least 3,000 people” a day should the vaccine supplies be available.

Stewart said the state will sign a contract with a company to bring in workers such as vaccinators, parking attendants, etc. to be used at such a clinic, adding that, with state approval, the CVC site could be up and running within one to two months.

He added while those who go to the CVC will still have to pre-register through vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 1-877-VAX-IN VA and receive an assigned time slot to come to the center, anyone who is willing to travel to Buckingham to obtain a vaccine, even people from three hours away, could potentially get vaccinated at the site.

Stewart added the state will not be opening these CVC centers up until vaccine supply is abundant. He said the center could run anywhere from three to six months depending on demand, and the county would be quickly reimbursed for any funds spent in relation to the clinic.

The board unanimously voted to put its name forward as a locality willing to host a CVC.

Wednesday, March 10, Davis said while the county was approached by VDEM in regards to setting up the vaccination center, the proposal will still need approval from state officials before it is set in stone.

He added while the site could operate for up to six days a week, that number may be lessened if vaccine availability shrinks or as demand for vaccine lessens.

Davis acknowledged some of the largest hurdles the county may encounter with this process would be related to traffic control surrounding the community center, such as message boards and traffic barriers.

He added part of the $100,000 funds approved by the county for vaccine clinics could go toward addressing these challenges. The county can approve more funds as time goes on.

Many supervisors appeared hopeful Monday night in regards to hosting a potential CVC site, including Board Chair and District 3 Supervisor Don Matthews. 

“I’m proud to say the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors has done their share to help other localities across the state of Virginia to get people vaccinated,” Matthews said.