Community Vaccination Center opens at Richmond Raceway

George Copeland Jr. | 10/14/2021, 6 p.m.
A reinstated mass vaccination clinic at Richmond Raceway on Laburnum Avenue got off to a busy, though rocky start this …
A long line stretches out the door of the Old Dominion building at the Richmond Raceway on tuesday, the first day for the reopened Community Vaccination Center where people can get booster shots or their first or second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Regina H. Boone

A reinstated mass vaccination clinic at Richmond Raceway on Laburnum Avenue got off to a busy, though rocky start this week, with officials promising a quick adjustment to accommodate the unexpected demand for shots.

Now called the Community Vaccination Center, the raceway clinic opened Tuesday and attracted nearly 400 people to the Old Dominion Building to receive protection from COVID-19, nearly double the anticipated turnout.

Officials acknowledged later that the clinic was not fully prepared for the surge of people who lined up to get inoculated or receive booster shots on opening day.

The Henrico County-based CVC is one of nine similar sites VDH is establishing across the state to step up delivery of shots both to those who are not vaccinated and those seeking booster shots.

These mass sites are designed to bolster the delivery of vaccines and existing distribution initiatives with more accessible hours. The mass sites also offer all available vaccines for the initial series, booster shots and doses for the immunocompromised.

The state Health Department also announced this week that it is opening a Community Vaccination Center in Chesterfield County, at the Rockwood Shopping Center at 10161 Hull Street Road in Midlothian. The center will be in the former Big Lots store.

Both the Richmond Raceway and Chesterfield County CVCs will be open 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Appointments are not required, but suggested by calling (877) VAX-IN-VA.

Those seeking booster shots are asked to bring their vaccine card to confirm the date and type of vaccine already received.

The health department chose the raceway for the mass clinic as a familiar location. It served as the area’s initial mass clinic after the COVID-19 vaccine first received federal approval last December.

However, at Tuesday’s opening, it appeared much of the expected organization was missing or overlooked, a surpris- ing oversight for the Virginia Department of Health and its contractor, AshBabbit-IEM.

Only about 250 people were expected at the opening, VDH spokeswoman Cindy Clayton said. Instead, 391 people came.

For Charles Montague Sr. of Henrico, the experience of getting his COVID-19 booster shot Tuesday was very different from his previous vaccine experiences at the raceway. He said he was surprised to find no direction to reach the site on Tuesday. He also was disappointed at the limited arrangements for parking, most notably handicapped spaces. Long lines and longer waiting periods were the norm Tuesday, with an average wait of 45 minutes. Some people waited an hour or more for a shot, despite the line snaking outside the building in a continuing drizzle.

Mr. Montague said he waited two hours to get the Pfizer booster, but he said he accepted the delay given what he saw as the honest effort of the workers to deal with the large turnout.

“It could’ve gone better but, you know, the folks did the best they could,” Mr. Montague said. “They’re out there working and doing the job, doing the best they could.”

Ms. Clayton said adjustments are already underway to better respond to the public.

“Everybody’s going to get what they need. We’re not going to turn people away,” Ms. Clayton said. “We definitely want to get the word out that we’re here. We want folks to be vaccinated.”

The CVC is just the first step of the VDH’s efforts in the region. Officials said planning is underway for mobile sites. Dr. Danny T.K. Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts and coordinator of vaccine distribution state- wide, said this is all part of a strategy to build greater vaccine coverage across Virginia.

Currently, Ms. Clayton confirmed there are no state plans for a vaccination center of similar size for Richmond’s South Side.

Somewhat surprising, Richmond City Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District, is not making an issue of that deci- sion. During the spring, he and Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, publicly chastised officials after VDH

failed to provide a comparable mass vaccination site south of the James River for commu- nities that are majority Black and brown.

When Dr. Jones was asked this week about the decision to just have the Henrico clinic, he said he is fine with it. He said he did not believe that South Side would offer a matching site to the space the raceway offers. He praised VDH for at least taking racial equity into account in its planning.

“For me, the awareness, that’s the biggest thing. Where we were not even on the radar before, we’re on the radar now,” Dr. Jones said.

He noted that the vaccine and booster shots are now avail- able in his and Ms. Trammell’s districts, and he said he would continue to make sure that South Side residents have fair and easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine.