The Wash
The COVID-19 test site at the Arlington Free Clinic, located at the Arlington Mill Community Center, is a local safety-net clinic that offers testing to low-income, uninsured and under-insured residents. (Alex Lucas, The Wash)
The COVID-19 test site at the Arlington Free Clinic, located at the Arlington Mill Community Center, is a local safety-net clinic that offers testing to low-income, uninsured and under-insured residents. (Alex Lucas, The Wash)

Virginia has plans to administer coronavirus vaccine. But are Arlington residents ready?

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said in a Dec. 2 press conference that the state expects to receive its first shipment of 70,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer by mid-December. The Virginia Department of Health will follow the CDC guidelines to determine who should get the vaccine first. Although VDH expects a high demand for the vaccine, Arlington residents have mixed levels of confidence in taking it.

Virginia’s phased approach to deliver the coronavirus vaccine state-wide was recently approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, as record numbers of Arlington COVID-19 cases continue to increase, residents have mixed feelings about receiving the vaccine.

Arlington’s COVID-19 cases reached its highest on Nov. 23 when the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) confirmed 98 additional cases in the county. As of Friday, the total number of cases reached 6535. Despite the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, some people in Arlington have some concerns about what the vaccine contains, its side effects and when they’ll be able to get it.

Arlington has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to operate the Drive-Through COVID-19 Collection site located at 1429 N. Quincy Street. Patients must have an existing order for COVID-19 testing from a licensed healthcare provider. (Courtesy of Liz Anderson)

Tim Steenster, a 52-year-old longtime Arlington resident, brought his son over to the Arlington Free Clinic to receive a COVID-19 test. Steenster wants to take the vaccine as soon as it is available. He and his brother have taken vaccines in the past including the flu vaccine.

“I’m comfortable taking it, there is no reason not to,” Steenster said.

Pfizer and Biontech submitted a request for emergency use authorization for their vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 20. On Nov. 30, Moderna announced a 94.1% efficacy for its vaccine and made the same request to the FDA. AstraZeneca considers their vaccine cheaper than the other two and easy to transport. AstraZeneca had reported a 90% efficacy rate, though officials acknowledge a manufacturing error regarding the amounts of vaccine given during the trials inadvertently contributed to that rate.

The FDA is currently reviewing the Pfizer, Biontech and Moderna vaccines and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). will vote to approve an emergency use authorization. ACIP is a federal advisory committee made up of medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on the use of vaccines for the U.S. public. Following FDA approval, the CDC will make COVID-19 vaccination priority recommendations on who should take it based on input from the ACIP.

Because of the rapid development coupled with the Trump’s administration’s political influence in the FDA’s approval process, there is a sense of mistrust, especially among Black people in the community in taking the vaccine.

This lack of trust among the Black community taking vaccinations began years ago when the United States Public Health Service conducted the Tuskegee experiment, a 40-year study on 600 Black men who were given syphilis and left untreated.

Morgan Taylor, a 28-year-old Black female, visited the Arlington Free Clinic on Tuesday to receive the COVID-19 test but was turned away due to a lack of testing capacity. Taylor is willing to be tested but is hesitant about taking the coronavirus vaccine.

“I don’t want to be a guinea pig by taking the vaccine when it first comes out,” Taylor said. She wants to wait for a year to pass before she takes it. “I was raised by parents to always be suspicious of vaccines given by the government.”

Although the vaccine approval process has been accelerated under Operation Warp Speed, VDH officials expect to receive an initial limited supply and plan to prioritize who will receive it first.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam stated in a press conference on Dec. 2, that the initial shipment of 70,000 of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will go to healthcare workers, followed by residents at long-term care facilities and others with high-risk health conditions.

There have been 254 reported coronavirus cases in Arlington involving health care workers.

Ryan Hudson, a health official at the Virginia Health Department in Arlington, said he is “very confident whoever wants a vaccine will get one.” He said the VDH plan adequately addresses the storage and redistribution requirements state-wide.

The Arlington County Public Health Department last week reported 6,831 negative COVID-19 tests, 375 positive tests and a 5.6% positivity rate.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Arlington currently stands at 6,334, with 157 deaths and a total of 569 people who have been hospitalized in Arlington due to the virus.

Alex Lucas

Alex Lucas is a candidate on the broadcast journalism track in the American University School of Communication Journalism and Public Affairs Masters Degree program. He has a passion for news beat reporting in Arlington, Virginia. He is a native of Washington DC, currently residing in Gainesville Virginia.

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