‘It’s good to know we’ve impacted our community in a positive way’
Robin Gilbert’s thumbs are scraped and sore – a testament to the more than 160,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots given at Richmond Raceway over the past four months.
Gilbert, health services supervisor for Henrico County Public Schools, has been a regular presence at the mass vaccination events organized by Henrico County.
In addition to administering shots, she has worked alongside fellow school nurses and others to get vaccine doses mixed and ready for use. That has meant repeatedly prying plastic caps off tiny vials with her thumbs. Not that she’s complaining.
“It’s kind of a little sad to see it come to an end,” Gilbert said Wednesday as she snapped a cap off another vial of saline and drew an exact amount into a syringe. “It’s good to know we’ve impacted our community in a positive way.”
With the COVID-19 vaccine now widely available at local pharmacies and doctors’ offices and demand for shots much lower than it was weeks ago, Henrico is preparing to end what has been Virginia’s largest mass vaccination site run by a local government. The county has invested more than $4 million in the effort, which reflects staffing, supplies, machinery, software and other costs, and plans to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The raceway will host its final two sessions Wednesday and Thursday. Vaccine will be available to anyone age 12 and older, with no appointment needed.
On Wednesday, a steady stream of people filed into a building on the raceway’s infield for shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. By the end of the day, 3,578 shots had been administered, bringing the four-month total to 160,735.
Henrico Emergency Manager Jackson Baynard said the county and community should be proud of what has been accomplished at the raceway, noting that the effort was developed from scratch and the challenges shifted as vaccine production ramped up.
“I think we did really well,” he said. “When vaccination supply was an issue, we worked hard to get vaccine. When demand became an issue, we worked hard to get people here.”
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Henrico and statewide are now as low as they have been since the early days of the pandemic, in March 2020. In addition, 39% of Henrico residents are fully vaccinated from COVID-19. That is the highest rate among Virginia’s 10 largest localities, according to a county analysis of data from the Virginia Department of Health.
Baynard said the success is shared by many – the Board of Supervisors and County Manager John A. Vithoulkas, the state and other localities, more than 700 employees from numerous county departments and the school system as well as scores of community partners, including the National Guard, Jewish Community Federation, Richmond Raceway and Westwood Pharmacy.
All told, about 3,000 workers have logged more than 96,000 hours at the events. In that time, the mood has shifted from quiet anxiousness to, at times, tearful jubilation.
Wednesday’s event marked another milestone – the first vaccinations of children ages 12 to 15 under new guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For Gilbert and other Henrico school nurses, seeing some of their young students step through the door was particularly gratifying.
“I think we all feel like we need a vacation, but I think we’re all excited about having all of our kids – all of our kids – back in school,” she said. “We miss them.”
Despite some initial jitters, 13-year-old Noah Amato, of Richmond, said he was eager to get his first shot.
“It would be more safe, after getting the vaccine, around family and friends,” he said. “I was more prepared than nervous.”
Noah’s mother, Amber Amato White, said the family is looking forward to a fun-filled summer with everyone soon to be fully vaccinated.
“Just to be able to do things, like go to the movies or amusement parks” is exciting, she said. “The kids have had a really hard time.”
As people slowly queued into the room and waited patiently to be called to one of 12 vaccination stations, Amato White said she appreciated the order of the entire operation.
“They’ve really got this down to a science,” she said. “It’s about as well organized as you’d want it to be.”
Baynard said the county plans to prepare an exhaustive report to document what has been involved in setting up and running the mass vaccination events. But about midday Wednesday, he faced a more pressing need when one of the vaccination stations needed someone to administer shots.
Without hesitation, he took the seat and introduced himself to Kathleen Richmond, who had arrived for her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. After an exchange of pleasantries and a few screening questions, Baynard tore open an alcohol swab and cleaned a spot on Richmond’s upper arm.
“Alright, there’s going to be a pinch – one, two, three,” he said, delivering the shot.
Just like that, Richmond was on her way – relieved to be soon protected from a virus that has caused nearly 575,000 deaths in the United States and eager to visit her family in Massachusetts.
“Hopefully the Caribbean, at some point,” she added with a smile.
COVID-19 Vaccination Timeline
Dec. 22, 2020: The Richmond and Henrico Health Districts receive their first doses of Moderna vaccine.
Jan. 18, 2021: With vaccine supplies limited, Richmond and Henrico Health Districts begin administering doses to individuals in 1b group, which includes first responders, teachers, grocery store workers and others.
Jan. 20, 2021: Mass vaccination clinic opens at Richmond Raceway, with 1,297 individuals receiving the Moderna vaccine. Shots are available only by appointment.
Jan. 30, 2021: The clinic at Richmond Raceway administers 4,854 shots of Pfizer vaccine – its highest total to date.
Jan. 31, 2021: Richmond and Henrico Health Districts begin offering vaccine to individuals in 1c group, which includes essential workers in a variety of sectors.
March 12, 2021: With access to supplies easing, the clinic at Richmond Raceway administers 7,010 shots of Pfizer vaccine – its highest number of shots for a single day.
April 3, 2021: The clinic at Richmond Raceway administers its 100,000th dose of vaccine.
April 9, 2021: Vaccines extended to individuals age 16 and older.
April 29, 2021: With many already vaccinated and supplies exceeding demand, the clinic at Richmond Raceway begins to accommodate individuals without appointments.
May 19, 2021: The clinic at Richmond Raceway begins to offer vaccine to children ages 12 to 15.
May 26 and 27, 2021: The last of 70 vaccination clinics will be held at Richmond Raceway. The total number of doses given over the clinic’s four months is expected to approach 170,000.