Late Wednesday evening, Dean Allen W. Groves emailed students “updated vaccine guidance” from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). This announcement was released in response to an influx of students traveling to Danville for vaccinations, after word spread among the student body that Danville had a surplus of vaccines.
In Dean Groves’ email, the VDH and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) urged students “not to travel to community vaccination centers unless they have an official appointment or invitation.”
Danville opened a COVID vaccine distribution center on Mar. 15 at the Danville Mall to serve the Danville-Pittsylvania region. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had designated Danville to be one of three initial mass vaccination sites based on an equity analysis study done by VDEM, providing 3,000 doses per day funded by FEMA to target vulnerable populations.
We have heard of many people who live in BRHD driving to Danville's Community Vaccination Center to get a #COVID19 vaccine. We ask everyone to respect VA's guidelines for getting vaccinated. The phases were created to ensure people at greatest risk of COVID19 get a vaccine first. pic.twitter.com/NAfOIQ3BjS
— Blue Ridge Health District (@HealthyBRHD) March 24, 2021
However, the center had been distributing only half of the vaccination capacity, with an estimated 1,500 doses given out per day.
Individuals from outside the region, including UVA students, began driving to Danville for walk-in vaccinations under the impression that the excess vaccines would expire if not administered.
“I went to Danville to receive the vaccine the first day that people at UVA started to hear about it,” said a third-year UVA student on her experience at the Danville center. “I was personally thanked by the nurse and another worker for getting the vaccine since so many vaccines were going to waste.”
“There was a point when the clinic briefly accepted walk-ins, because appointments dropped below projected demand,” said Dena Potter, a Danville Department of General Services spokesperson.
As of Mar. 24, walk-ins will no longer be accepted in Danville to focus on the communities the center was intended to prioritize.
According to Dean Groves’ email, only individuals who receive an appointment or invitation to attend a Community Vaccination Center (CVC) event will be permitted inside for vaccinations. The centers are intended for people eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1 in Virginia, who are at higher risk for exposure to or severe illness from COVID-19.
VDEM and VDH will continue to closely monitor demand for Phase 1 vaccinations in the locations where CVCs are operating, adjusting doses as needed while continuing to vaccinate eligible individuals in the vicinity.
Health officials in the Blue Ridge Health District (BRHD) also offered slight reassurances for the public, stating vaccines will soon be available for those in phase 1C within “weeks.” According to BRHD director Dr. Denise Bonds, there is a disproportionate number of frontline health workers compared to individuals over the age of sixty-five – members in both the Phase 1A and 1B groups – in the district.
In Dean Groves’ update to students, he acknowledged students’ concerns. “UVA is working closely with the VDH to distribute the vaccines that are allocated to our region by the Commonwealth as quickly as we can,” he said.
“We are hopeful that increasing supplies will permit additional allocations in the near future and that the BRHD will expand eligibility soon. In the meantime, we urge all UVA community members to follow this and all VDH guidance.”