Employers told nearly 800 Realtors and credit union workers in the Richmond area they could sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine that federal and state guidance said they’re ineligible to receive. More than 400 were scheduled for a vaccination event Sunday while thousands of health care workers, teachers and long-term care residents continue to wait for doses that are in short supply.
Hours after the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked why, it was canceled.
Buford Road Pharmacy in North Chesterfield would have conducted the clinic for Virginia Credit Union and Joyner Fine Properties, the two groups whose workers made appointments but qualify for vaccinations in the third phase, which hasn’t started. Its lead pharmacist, Joseph Jadallah, found out Monday there were no vaccines to provide.
On a 3:48 p.m. call Wednesday, Glenn Birch, director of public relations for Virginia Credit Union, which acquired the real estate company in July 2019, said he was shocked to learn about the vaccine event from a reporter.
By 7:08 p.m., Birch followed up in an email saying the credit union was providing the pharmacy with its community room to increase capacity at future public vaccination clinics and that Sunday was a “dry run for those procedures.” Credit union staff could assist as volunteers for the clinics, but Birch said they’d need to be vaccinated beforehand. Volunteer tasks would include directing traffic, doing check-ins and cleaning the building.
Around 7:30 p.m., Jadallah informed the employers there was no supply and canceled the event. Birch sent another email at 7:50 confirming the cancellation.
Jadallah said these efforts were done in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Health and that giving shots to people who work vaccine events for virus protection is common.
“We’re not jumping in front of anybody,” he continued.
A Chesterfield Health District spokesperson confirmed Wednesday night that vaccine event volunteers are typically vaccinated and said the state health department has enrolled about 100 pharmacies like Buford to help with distribution.
But in a Tuesday email obtained by The Times-Dispatch, Joyner Fine Properties President John Stone did not once mention volunteer opportunities and called the event a “part of our outgoing efforts to support your safety and well-being as an essentially designated business.”
The email also stated that there would be future additional clinics to include family members of credit union and Joyner employees. Scheduling workers continued into Wednesday.
“We understand that our employees fall into group 1c, and there are people in groups 1a and 1b yet to be vaccinated,” Birch said in an email. “We believe that by making our facility available, we are part of the solution by making broader distribution of the vaccine available in the coming weeks.”
Jadallah said he thinks the space could be used to vaccinate thousands within six hours and help Virginia rank in the top 10 among states for vaccine distribution. On Wednesday, it ranked 49th.
The Chesterfield Health District began the second phase of vaccinations this week along with Richmond and Henrico County, but these localities are currently prioritizing only police, correctional facilities and homeless shelter workers and K-12 staff in this group.
On Tuesday, Chesterfield County Public Schools announced a delay in teachers getting vaccinated ahead of returning to in-person learning on Feb. 1.
The school district was allotted 750 doses instead of the estimated 4,000 shots.
Earlier Wednesday, Chesterfield Health District spokesperson Brookie Crawford said that while the VDH works to ensure the vaccine is distributed equitably and to those who need it most, it “cannot maintain full control over how the doses are distributed.”
“It is better for vaccines to be administered to someone not strictly ‘eligible’ than for it to be wasted,” Crawford said.
This adage has primarily been used in the Richmond region for when hospital or health department vaccination events for those who qualify for current phases have people not show up for appointments last minute. But Christy Gray, the VDH’s director of immunizations, told reporters on a call Dec. 30 that the VDH “would not expect our vaccinators to just schedule people that are in less priority as others.”
*Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that 100 pharmacies have enrolled for vaccine distribution across Virginia.