COVID-19 vaccinations underway for region’s public safety, public schools employees

Richmond Raceway, Westwood Pharmacy supporting effort

A mass effort to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to public safety and public schools employees in the region is underway at Richmond Raceway in Henrico County with help from a local pharmacy.

The event kicked off Tuesday and is expected to provide vaccinations to more than 4,000 employees of the city of Richmond and the counties of Goochland, Hanover and Henrico through Friday. Local health districts are coordinating the effort with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and expect to deliver thousands of more shots over the coming weeks depending on vaccine supplies.

“This event at Richmond Raceway represents a major milestone in our region’s ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Henrico County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said. “By beginning to vaccinate our police officers, firefighters and other safety personnel as well as our teachers and other public school employees, we are taking a step toward protecting our most vulnerable frontline workers and those they serve as well as helping to restore our public schools for safe in-person learning.”

Because vaccine supplies remain limited, VDH has directed a phased approach that allows groups of individuals to be inoculated based on their risks of exposure and severe illness. Public safety personnel and public schools employees are prioritized to receive the vaccine under Phase 1b.

The federal government recently informed localities that they would receive fewer doses of COVID-19 vaccine than previously reported. Officials said that means existing supplies will allow only a fraction of eligible employees to be vaccinated initially. Vithoulkas contacted Westwood Pharmacy in hopes of opening additional supply lines in the future. As a result, the pharmacy is helping to staff the vaccination effort at Richmond Raceway.

“We are grateful to have Richmond Raceway and Westwood Pharmacy as outstanding private sector partners,” Vithoulkas said. “As we have been reminded many times over the past year, this pandemic requires coordination and cooperation of every segment of our community. Local governments have accomplished more by working regionally with the support and assistance of state and federal agencies. Likewise, our capacity to serve our residents is supercharged when we are able to tap civic-minded businesses and other private partners.

“To be clear,” Vithoulkas added, “Henrico is fully engaged and ready to approach the vaccination phase boldly, just as we have with testing. As of today, Henrico is third in the commonwealth in the total number of COVID tests administered.”

Richmond Raceway’s willingness to host the vaccination effort is an extension of its contributions to foster a healthy, vibrant region, said Dennis Bickmeier, the raceway’s president.

“We support the effort of the Virginia Department of Health and our local Richmond-Henrico Health district partners for a quick and safe experience to get the region vaccinated for COVID-19,” he said. “Our facility and staff will be ready to support this aggressive vaccine initiative to restore good health to our community this year. The Richmond Raceway Complex is an integral part of the greater Richmond region, and this is another opportunity to utilize our multipurpose facility for support as we have for PPE distribution, blood drives, high school graduations and more to help get us back to regular life.”

Similarly, Westwood Pharmacy welcomed the opportunity to assist, said Mark A. Oley, president.

“During these trying times, we are pleased to partner with Henrico County and the Virginia Department of Health, and we look forward to administering as many vaccinations to our fellow citizens as needed,” he said. “Our team, headed up by Dr. Shannon Dowdy and Dr. Shubhro Pal, is working in a collaborative fashion with the county of Henrico – led by John Vithoulkas. The partnership has been extremely efficient, professional and effective in helping design a logistical framework from which we have been able to get this vaccine out as quickly and safely as possible.”

The mass vaccination event is closed to the general public; all individuals eligible to receive a vaccine at the event have been preregistered by their localities or departments.

VDH anticipates residents will have various opportunities in the coming weeks to receive COVID-19 vaccines through various pharmacies, physicians and other providers. Individuals who believe they are eligible for a vaccine in Phase 1a or 1b are encouraged to schedule an appointment if directed by their employer or primary care provider. In addition, residents of Richmond and Henrico can complete the appropriate interest form or call (804) 205-3501 to indicate their readiness to schedule an appointment to receive a vaccine. Other residents of Virginia can call (877) ASK-VDH3 to learn about vaccination opportunities in their area.

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