Last week, the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts hosted our first COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. We were able to deliver the first COVID-19 vaccines to almost 300 of our region’s frontline healthcare workers, including Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics as well as the laboratory team running COVID-19 tests at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion. These efforts, along with those by Carilion Clinic, LewisGale, and the Salem VA Medical Center, have launched our area’s initial COVID-19 vaccination response.
When the initial supply of COVID-19 vaccine arrived at our department, our vaccine coordinator began to tear up. After months of working at COVID-19 testing events, responding to outbreaks, and calling patients who have tested positive, the delivery of the vaccine is a beacon of light near the end of this long, dark tunnel of the pandemic. It represents an exciting shift in our fight against the spread.
Our goal is to partner with local healthcare providers to deliver this vaccine to every resident who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That process will take time as vaccine availability is initially very limited, but will expand over the coming months. With the current amount of vaccine available, we are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s and Virginia Department of Health’s guidelines that prioritize frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities to receive the vaccine first. We are extremely appreciative of all of first responders, including EMTs and paramedics, during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have often been directly exposed, transporting patients who are sick with COVID and having limited resources available to them in an ambulance. Vaccination will offer them significant protection along with the physical protections of personal protective equipment such as N-95 masks, gowns, and gloves.
The headline of this effort is that the vaccine is safe and effective. It is important that everyone get the vaccine when it is their turn. Our job in public health is to ensure that every vaccine received by our community is delivered to the appropriate population. After this first phase of initial rollout, vaccine will be available to essential workers and to those citizens over the age of 75. As more vaccine becomes available, we will endeavor to vaccinate all of those in our community who want the vaccine as safely, effectively, and efficiently as possible. Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will help keep you safe and help keep the people around you safe. It is a key strategy to slow the spread of this deadly virus. The greater our community vaccination rates, the more our community will be protected and this effort will require all of us to be patient and flexible as the vaccine supply slowly increases.
While it is incredibly exciting that we have begun vaccinating healthcare workers in our community, we must recognize that our local cases have continued to surge. Our families are spreading the virus across generations, our hospitals are seeing younger patients, and we continue to lose our community members each week. Our hospitals are responding heroically, but their staff are exhausted. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that you protect yourself and those around you by staying home, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance.
We are in this together, and we appreciate all that you are doing to stay safe. I wish you a wonderful, healthful New Year.