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Vaccine access: Northern Virginia leaders push for more vaccines and more equitable distribution

One community leader said it’s not an issue of vaccine hesitancy among some community members but rather a lack of access.

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — Northern Virginia leaders are calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to give them more vaccines, expressing concern they won’t be able to meet the May 1 vaccine eligibility deadline without it.

The letter was sent as Loudoun County NAACP President Pastor Michelle Thomas echoed the sentiment people are desperate to get inoculated.

“There is no issue in the African American community with hesitancy. Our issue is we have been registered but we haven't been able to get an appointment, so this solves that problem,” Thomas said. 

RELATED: White Virginians and Marylanders getting vaccinated at a faster rate than Black residents, data shows

She said the problem is people’s access to the vaccine, an issue she’s trying to bridge. On Saturday she organized two mass vaccination sites inside churches that resulted in 800 vaccinations. 

Thomas said she reached out to local churches, NAACP members, and other groups to spread the word. She said the appointments filled in hours.

“Everybody doesn't have the computer, everybody doesn't have the internet, and so digital access is a problem. Whereas transportation and how to get to the vaccine clinics is a huge, huge problem. Communication, education, about the vaccine, huge problem and so access is a huge problem,” Thomas said.

There’s also an issue of local jurisdictions getting access to more vaccines. Leaders with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission sent a letter to Gov. Northam Friday calling for more doses.

“With equity as our focus, we have assembled the capacity to administer many more doses of coronavirus vaccine than we are currently administering,” the letter reads.

“Each of our health districts have waiting lists for vaccines for individuals in the 1A and 1B categories that far outstrip the supply we have received to date. We stand ready to meet your expectation that everyone, even those who have not registered, will have a place in line six weeks from now, but we will need more doses immediately to make that reality,” the letter to Northam reads.

RELATED: Walk-up vaccine appointments in Manassas draw 2,000+ residents early in the morning

The letter also said that in some estimates they found close to 90% of some resident communities want the vaccine.

The letter is signed by representatives from Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

There is a national May 1 deadline for everyone to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pastor Michelle Thomas said she’s also working to ensure more people are inoculated by then and won’t stop until everyone who wants to be inoculated is.

“We’re going to do an assessment of how many African Americans have been vaccinated and then we'll decide what our vaccination clinic should look like, should it be by the 500s, or should it be down to 100s. But we will not stop until every person who wants the vaccine has been served,” Thomas said.

Thomas partnered with MedsPack to make Saturday’s distribution site possible.

The company’s president said they have been partnered with the county to get the most vulnerable members of the community vaccinated.

“We are partnered with Loudoun County and they have been reaching out to help us get those vaccinations rolled out to the communities that are hard hit and have trouble getting access to the vaccines,” MedsPack President Pramod Arikeri said. “So Loudoun partnered with us and then they've been communicating with churches, church leaders, interfaith leaders, community leaders, and we are partnering since then and then holding these events to make sure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable public at this moment.”

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