It would be folly to say that this country’s massive rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine “is nothing new,” simply because a mass vaccination of this scale hasn’t been seen before.
Taking that into account, hiccups were to be expected.
But one hiccup we weren’t expecting in Virginia was our state Department of Health’s reliance on the internet to make sure the shots get out and to the right people as quickly as possible.
Yet, here we are.
Sure, having people log onto a website and fill out information might work seamlessly in high-connected places like Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area, but things are a bit different in Virginia’s rural health districts — which the Shenandoah Valley is clearly a part of. And once the VDH’s Central Shenandoah Health District announced late Monday that residents in Phase 1b — those 65 and older and others with certain health conditions — had to go online or send an email to enroll, we knew immediately there would be problems.
Our intuition proved right as the phones rang in our newsroom Tuesday from people older than 65 who either didn’t have internet, weren’t online savvy or were just generally confused by the whole mess. If the goal was to get as many 65-and-olders vaccinated by using an online portal and email, the state was sadly mistaken.
Rural broadband in the state has long been a problem, and the move to online learning for most of our area school students should have been the first harbinger of things to come. Take a few steps outside Harrisonburg. Finding a reliable (or any) internet is a roll of the dice.
When it comes to the health and safety of our aged population — the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus — a crapshoot is unacceptable.
“There are a lot of older people like me who are in retirement, and I don’t know what internet costs, and if you’re living on a fixed income, maybe you can’t afford it,” said Jean Gochenour, an 88-year-old area resident who called our newsroom Tuesday.
In its vaccine rollout, Virginia has left much to be desired, to say the least. Only 2.5% of residents have received their initial inoculation and a paltry .03% have gotten both shots, according to the New York Times. Of the 852,725 doses received as of Jan. 15, just 244,232 have been doled out. Meanwhile, across the mountain in West Virginia, 6.3% of the population has received shot No. 1. Yes, as The Associated Press put it, “Little Old West Virginia” is leading the way.
The blame doesn’t sit with people like Rockingham County Fire and Rescue Chief Jeremy Holloway, who told us that county residents without internet, email or a computer can call county fire and rescue staff, who will do all that they can to direct callers to vaccine registration resources. And it’s not on the county staff, who, according to District 4 Supervisor Bill Kyger, reached out to the Virginia Association of Counties to try to find a solution. These people are going above and beyond what they’re called to.
No. That blame squarely travels south on Interstate 81 before heading east on 64 toward Richmond.
It’s a decent-sized city where the state Capitol sits; and some cities don’t seem to realize that not everybody has easy-to-get, and affordable, internet out in these parts.
Maybe somebody, somewhere should have thought of that.