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Tension high amid vaccination rollout

Anxiety about COVID-19 vaccination is understandable. We feel the angst when readers call or email us with stories of canceled appointments, clogged phone lines and confusing online portals. In some cases, they blame the newspaper when information that we reported in good faith proves to be unreliable.

We get it. The people of Isle of Wight County want protection from this deadly virus, and they want it sooner rather than later.

Our view is that the Western Tidewater Health District has been dealt a bad hand and done generally well under circumstances largely beyond its control.

We see top-down failures in the vaccine distribution process. The federal government has not provided the states, including Virginia, the resources they need to be able to purchase, store, distribute and administer vaccines. State government in Virginia has had a haphazard process of distributing vaccines to localities, switching from prior methods to a population-based allocation of vaccines.

Locally, the Western Tidewater Health District’s biggest failure has been in communication. When people are on edge and literally scared for their lives, health officials must understand that promises create expectations.

So when, for example, you put out the word, including in this newspaper, that a new batch of doses has arrived and people can begin making appointments at a certain time on a certain date, you better be darn sure that you have an adequate phone system to handle the inevitable surge of calls. The health department’s phones were overwhelmed in just such a situation last week, causing horror stories from people calling scores of times but never getting an answer, as reporter Stephen Cowles wrote about in last week’s edition.

The actual vaccinations appear to be going well, as Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams noted in a letter to the editor last week. We join the mayor in commending the many health officials who are working tirelessly to protect citizens in the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes.

While some frustration is warranted, the citizenry would be wise to take a collective breath and resist the kind of anger that required police in neighboring Franklin to visit the health department there recently and restore order as the crowd got rowdy. We’ve taken a few phone calls ourselves from people angry at our newspaper, even though we have reported the best information available to us about how to get vaccinated. Such outbursts serve no purpose.

Said the health department’s Will Drewery, “We understand everyone’s frustration, and we are frustrated too.”

“Patience,” he pleaded. We understand the sentiment, even as we feel for those, especially our community’s senior citizens, who have not yet been vaccinated.

“As more vaccine becomes available to us, we will offer more opportunities,” Drewery told our reporter. “I can assure you and everyone that we are doing this as fast as we possibly can. Like I mentioned, we are frustrated too.”