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Prince Edward has lowest vaccination rate in region

Despite being the site of many mass COVID-19 vaccine clinics and efforts to lead a public vaccine campaign, Prince Edward County has remained the lowest-vaccinated county in the Piedmont Health District and sports some of the lowest numbers across the state when it comes to the percentage of the population partially or fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

However, local officials say those numbers may not be what they seem.

As of Wednesday, May 12, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) lists Prince Edward County as having 32.7% of its population at least partially vaccinated, a figure lower than any neighboring county. Buckingham has partially vaccinated 38.1% of residents, and Cumberland has at least partially immunized 35% of its residents.

Prince Edward was also listed as having fully vaccinated 25% of its residents compared to Buckingham’s 27.8% and Cumberland’s 27%. Other counties in the district have even higher vaccination rates, such as Lunenburg County’s 30.2% immunization figure. Statewide, 35.9% of Virginians are now fully vaccinated.

The county has been lagging behind in vaccine rates for weeks, but it has proven difficult to determine exactly why. According to Dr. Sulola Adekoya, acting director for the Piedmont Health District, there is ample vaccine supply available in the county and Prince Edward has not had a smaller amount of clinics than neighboring localities.

So, what could be the problem? On Wednesday, Prince Edward Assistant County Administrator and Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Elam Puckett offered up a possible explanation behind some of the county’s deficit.

Puckett said as of Wednesday VDH’s COVID dashboard was reporting 13,050 vaccine doses had been administered to Prince Edward County residents. VDH lists Prince Edward as having 7,476 “at least partially vaccinated” residents and 5,833 fully vaccinated residents.

“This is the highest total doses administered in the Piedmont Health District which represents a terrific effort by the Piedmont Health District and all of the vaccination partners in our community,” Puckett said.

“Regrettably, for localities that are home to colleges and universities communities, there is a significant limitation to this data.  Prince Edward County’s total population of about 23,000 includes a combined total of about 5,000 Longwood and Hampden-Sydney students.  Any student who was vaccinated and used their out of county home address will not be included in the vaccination data for Prince Edward County.”

Puckett said there continue to be multiple clinic opportunities in the county both at the Prince Edward Youth Gymnasium and at local pharmacies.  Additionally, she said, the county and Town of Farmville are working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to offer Johnson & Johnson vaccine mobile clinics in more rural areas of Prince Edward County. 

“While exact locations are still being confirmed, preliminarily we have upcoming clinics scheduled in Rice, Meherrin, Virso, Prospect and Pamplin,” she added.

She said the health district has coordinated with the county and local schools for a special clinic at  Prince Edward County Public Schools from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 18.

All clinics are now open for walk-ins, Puckett and Adekoya added, and no appointments are necessary. 

Adekoya added the health district is looking into other reasons behind this gap. In the meantime, Piedmont has an outreach group with boots on the ground going door to door in low vaccine areas and disseminating information surrounding clinics and vaccine safety in hopes of further educating citizens on the benefits of immunization.

Health officials are also combing through data to identify individuals who received a first dose of the vaccine but have neglected to show up for their second-dose appointment. The district is working to encourage those people to reschedule their second doses.