NORFOLK, Va. — A few dozen people arrived at the Military Circle Mall COVID-19 vaccination clinic shortly after doors opened at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach partnered to reopen the vaccine clinic on June 22. It offers first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines every Tuesday and Thursday through July.
However, the number of vaccinations is a stark difference from when FEMA launched a clinic at the Norfolk location from March until May.
“We realized we’re not setting up for those large events where we’re doing a thousand at a time," said Dr. Parham Jaberi, VDH deputy commissioner of public health and acting director in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. "But a couple hundred here and a couple hundred there and certainly the numbers are adding up.”
Nearly 300 people received vaccinations during the first week of reopening.
The four cities alternate hosting the clinic per week. The collaboration is the result of community feedback, said Dr. Jaberi. VDH officials consistently received requests for "one-stop shops" to register and receive vaccinations.
Despite the lower vaccination numbers, Dr. Jaberi said the revamped clinic is meeting expectations, and he believes the results justify the resources to reopen the site.
Dr. Jaberi said the statewide strategy switched to a smaller, hyper-local approach including mobile clinics in communities and partnering with churches for vaccination events. There were also vaccination events on Independence Day week.
In the meantime, the Military Circle Mall clinic is trying something new.
The clinic now allows anyone to register online and choose their preferred brand of vaccine. It offers Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson shots. Walk-ins are also accepted.
“Now you can make a vaccine appointment based on the vaccine you desire," said Dr. Jaberi.
The clinic is scheduled to last through July. Jaberi said it’s too early to say if it will be extended.
Of the factors to consider, health leaders are monitoring the results of Moderna and Pfizer clinical trials on vaccinating younger kids.
“In the event we hear that there may be earlier approvals than expected, the [Military Circle Mall clinic] can stay open to help vaccinate the younger children," he said.
Virginia Beach and Norfolk residents make up 80 percent of people being vaccinated. Dr. Jaberi expects a decision on the clinic’s future later in the month.
Dr. Jaberi said the goal is simple: vaccinate as many people as possible. He does not think it is time to let up, just yet.
The Delta variant, which doctors say spreads easier and in some cases causes more serious complications, makes up less than two percent of overall cases in Hampton Roads. But local health leaders are watching the data.
"It is doing exactly what we thought it was going to do," said Dr. Jaberi. "It’s a very small percentage of the total infections but each day, each week it’s slightly higher than the day before."
Dr. Jaberi said VDH expects the variant will become more common in Hampton Roads, based on models.
"Regardless of the variant or the original COVID strain, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect oneself," he said.
The clinic is open every Tuesday from 1:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It is free, and walk-ins are accepted. However, registrations are encouraged.
Masks are required.
Vaccines are available for individuals ages 12 and up. Children aged 12 to 17 years old are authorized for the Pfizer vaccine only, and anyone under the age of 18 will need to have a parent or guardian accompanying them in order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.