As promised, COVID-19 vaccination appointments opened to all Virginians age 16 and older on Sunday. But as health district officials warned, getting an appointment still isn’t easy.
Accessing COVID-19 vaccine continues to be a challenge in Prince William County and most of Northern Virginia for several reasons but primarily because demand is still outpacing supply.
But the switch to open eligibility on Sunday, April 18, also revealed other challenges in Prince William County, including that appointments were not made available at local health-district-run vaccination clinics through the Vaccine Finder website as of Sunday morning.
According to Virginia Department of Health officials, Virginians were supposed to be able to make appointments at the state and local health district clinics once eligibility for the vaccine was opened to all residents 16 and older on Sunday, April 18.
The Manassas Mall vaccine clinic, which is run by the Prince William Health District, did not appear on the vaccine finder website Sunday morning because of technical issues, according to Sean Johnson, a contractor who is working as a spokesman for the local health district.
The Vaccine Finder website “has a few tech[nical] issues getting clinics loaded up. So the intent is to get it loaded up when it can,” Johnson said in an email Sunday. “[When that will happen], I can’t answer because we don’t run the program.”
Some other local health districts’ vaccination clinics were listed on the Vaccine Finder website, including those in the City of Alexandria as well as Arlington and Stafford counties. But the links to make appointments at those clinics were either broken or directed users to the VDH website, which cannot be used to make appointments. The VDH website only allows residents to register for COVID-19 vaccinations.
In Fairfax County, where the county-run health department is administering vaccine independently from the state, residents will not be able to make appointments at vaccine clinics managed by the health department “and some of its partners” until “late April or early May due to available vaccine supply and the need to finish those on our waitlist,” according to its website.
Everyone who was on the Fairfax County waitlist before it closed at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, “will be contacted to schedule appointments within approximately one week,” the Fairfax Health Department website says. “All other residents interested in obtaining a vaccine should utilize Vaccine Finder.org.”
A new community vaccination center set to open at Tyson’s Corner on Tuesday, April 20, will also not initially be open for appointment-making. Instead, residents will be contacted for appointments from the county’s waiting list “to support the Fairfax Health District’s transition to phase 2,” the Fairfax County website says.
In the Prince William Health District, pre-registration still necessary
It’s not yet clear if the Gander Mountain CVC will remain closed to appointment-making for the same reason, as VDEM officials could not be reached Sunday morning.
To help people pre-register and obtain available appointments, the Prince William Health District will continue to send outreach teams into underserved areas of Prince William County, an effort that is being supported by state funds.
The local health district is also planning for another possible mobile, walk-up vaccination clinic for the end of the week. Details about the vaccination clinic will be shared when they are available, Johnson said in an email.
How to get a short-notice appointment at the Manassas Mall
Opportunities for short-notice appointments will be announced on a day-to-day basis, Johnson said.
“We don’t know about open appointments until the clinic starts [each] morning,” Johnson said in an email.
Local appointments listed on vaccinefinder.org on Sunday morning were slim. The website allows users to search by ZIP Code and shows all pharmacies that might have appointments available as far as 50 miles away.
On Sunday morning, the website showed possible availability at CVS, Giant, Safeway, Walgreens and Wegmans. But after clicking through to all of those sites, appointments were only immediately available at the Giant on Hedges Run in Lake Ridge. All other pharmacies were showing either no availability within the next seven days or only appointments outside Northern Virginia.
CVS.com, for example, said on vaccine finder.org that vaccine is “in stock” locally. The link on vaccine finder takes users to the CVS.com website, which showed appointments in more than 20 Virginia locations — but none in Northern Virginia. The closest was in Charlottesville.
Walgreens’ system seemed the easiest to navigate in that it showed all available appointments without having to input different days or ZIP Codes. But as of Sunday, the closest Walgreens appointments for the coming week were in Bealeton and Fredericksburg.
Vaccination hunters are encouraged to check the website often for new appointments. (Good luck!)