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Clinic to serve as model

The order of vaccine prioritization was questioned by Prince Edward’s county administrator after news that Longwood University faculty and staff would begin receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations this week.

Employees at institutions of higher learning have been categorized by the VDH as Phase 1c vaccine recipients. Phase 1b was not scheduled to begin in the health district until Tuesday, Jan. 19.

However, an email distributed by Longwood Assistant Vice President of Communications Matt McWilliams Thursday, Jan. 14, informed the campus community that vaccine clinics would begin the following week for university staff.

“Today I shared with faculty and staff that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has made an initial round of vaccines available for Longwood employees, who are considered essential workers under Virginia guidelines,” McWilliams wrote. “Vaccine clinics will begin next week.

“At this time, VDH is only making vaccines available to active faculty and staff. When we receive information about the commonwealth’s timelines and plans for making vaccines available to students, I will share it with you. Longwood is working closely with the state and local officials to be helpful however we can in community vaccination efforts.”

In a statement provided Monday, McWilliams said Longwood’s vaccination clinic will be a four-day, on-campus clinic run by the nursing faculty in conjunction with the University Health Center and VDH which school officials are viewing as a “proof-of-concept” for the university’s future aid in vaccine rollout.

“Longwood has stood ready throughout the vaccine rollout to be helpful to the community, in particular with two resources that we are able to provide to some degree but are in short supply — refrigeration technology and nurses who can administer vaccinations,” McWilliams said Monday.

“Last week we were approached by VDH about using these resources to quickly administer shots to as many Longwood community members as possible — along the lines of our annual flu clinic. We moved quickly to work through the logistics and scale that up. We see it as a proof-of-concept, and a kind of dry run for these logistical issues. But if the clinic works well this week, we are ready and hopeful our experience and expertise can be helpful as part of other community efforts that are being planned.

“We are ready and eager to help,” he said. “Also, please be aware we have also already been supporting Centra by assigning nursing students to help them staff up their efforts, and also by providing refrigeration technology they can use locally.”

But some members of the community were concerned the move to vaccinate Longwood faculty and staff may have meant the county was skipping over more-vulnerable Phase 1b populations not yet inoculated.

On Monday, Jan. 18, Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said the county had heard concerns from residents regarding social media postings from Longwood staff who indicated they were preparing to receive first-round vaccinations.

“Based on the information that we had received from VDH and the public has seen in the media, higher education was included in 1c,” Stanley said. “As we know, VDH is rolling out 1b, which will extend coverage to people 65+, K-12 educators and frontline workers. On the surface we seemed to be jumping over the older and most vulnerable populations of 75+ and 65+ in our community.”

On Monday, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said while Phase 1b only includes K-12 educators on paper, he feels additional considerations must be extended to large institutions in the community with high populations of people living in congregate settings, including universities.

Nash said faculty and staff at Longwood amount to just under 1,000 “potential vectors” of the virus in the Prince Edward area who come into contact with many people, including students, throughout their day.

“Those people at the greatest risk in that facility are the faculty and staff, and therefore pose the greatest potential threat to spread the virus in our community.

“This is the most densely populated employer in our county,” Nash said Monday. “They have the same risk as any correctional facility; maybe more … That’s why this group needs to be vaccinated now.”

“There are many that want to get vaccinated, and we realize that VDH (is) only able to process a limited number through the health office,” Stanley continued on Monday. “Health equity is important, now more than ever, to ensure that those with the fewest resources have access and opportunities to get the vaccination as outlined by the governor and VDH. We have offered, and continue to offer our support to the Piedmont Health District (PHD) to expand capabilities to vaccinate our citizens. I am hopeful that we can partner with PHD, the Town of Farmville, Centra, Longwood and other stakeholders to make this happen in the coming weeks.”