The new center is the end result of what officials described as a “Herculean effort” at collaboration between Fairfax County, the City of Alexandria and Inova.
“There is palpable hope and excitement,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, echoing earlier comments from the first vaccination event at ACPS. “The beginning of the end is here.”
The long vacant, unfinished interior office of the Victory Center was reconfigured and redesigned to support the mass-vaccination usage, with rows and rows of stations between the unfinished furnishings that are a reminder of the building’s former disuse.
Dr. Stephen Jones, President and CEO of Inova, said the facility will open by the end of the month with the expectation of dispensing 6,000 vaccines per day, provided those vaccines are available. That could double if the supply of doses increase, though Jones said he is wary of making predictions on vaccine availability.
While the project is a major boost to the region’s capacity, leaders recognized that the choke point remains supply.
“Supply continues to be our greatest limiting factor,” said Jones.
Wilson said earlier that the city is receiving roughly 3,000 doses weekly, which includes second doses for those who already had their first. This is an increase over the 2,000 weekly doses the city had been receiving, but still means that it could be late summer before many residents get vaccinated at the current rate. Many teachers are still struggling to get access to vaccines even as they’re expected to return to school, and the city just opened the current phase of vaccination to restaurant workers.
Jeff McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said Fairfax also recently increased its vaccine supply and expects more in the coming weeks. McKay noted that the new facility is designed to meet a potential increase in supply to prevent vaccines from going unused.
“Roughly half of Fairfax County residents are currently eligible for the vaccine,” said McKay. “We get 19,000 doses every week, which is up from 13,000 weeks ago. We were told by the [state] to expect a major increase in doses in the coming weeks. We want to have the infrastructure to take care of those doses. We can’t control the dosage, but what is in our control is capacity.”
“We’ve seen areas where the vaccine has sat unused, but that’s not true in Northern Virginia,” Jones added. “We want to be sure that doesn’t happen.”
Jones said the Victory Center was ideal not only for the available interior space, but for its proximity to the Beltway and transit options — there’s a Metrobus stop out front and the Van Dorn Street Metro station is just a short walk to the west.
Jones thanked Alexandria for simplifying a potentially several-month development process down to a few weeks.
Jones clarified that queuing for the vaccine doesn’t require a credit check or insurance — though the latter is optional — but will require patients to provide the last four digits of their social security number. The requirement provides a hurdle for undocumented residents of the region, many whom live in some of the city’s most vulnerable populations, but Jones said it’s necessary to verify the identity of those who receive the vaccine.
“We do require the last four of the social security number to confirm people’s identity,” Jones said. “It’s been heartbreaking to be at the front door when people come up and we don’t have a way to verify who they are.”
McKay said Fairfax County has partnered with organizations like Neighborhood Health to provide access to the vaccine for those who might not otherwise have the required documentation, and Alexandria has similar partnerships that have solidified over the course of the pandemic.
“If someone is not a citizen we have ways to refer them to [resources],” McKay said. “A lot of these people are in high risk situations… We want every person who can be vaccinated to get the vaccine.”
Jones also noted that Inova has been running a program called Inova Cares Clinics designed specifically to cater towards underserved communities.