Health districts in Virginia may start opening COVID-19 vaccine appointments to the general population as early as Sunday.

Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on Thursday that all Virginians 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine starting April 18, State Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said Friday that districts are moving forward in the vaccination phases as they experience appointment slots that go unfilled.

Before moving forward, he said they are contacting all qualified individuals who have preregistered for a vaccine on the state’s waitlist.

“The more people that are vaccinated, the better it is for the community,” Avula said in a Friday teleconference.

The general public is part of Phase 2 of Virginia’s vaccine rollout process. Register for the vaccine at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-829-4682.

Everyone eligible in Phase 1 who has pre-registered through the state waitlist should hear from the Health Department before the district moves on to Phase 2, Avula said.

Those in the Lord Fairfax district should watch for an email or a phone call from a Winchester number, depending on the information they provided.

They should also check that their information is filled out accurately on the waitlist, Avula said. Or they can sign up again.

“Just because we’re moving on does not mean we’re not still vaccinating Phase 1,” he said.

In many parts of the state, Avula said, those eligible under Phase 1 who sign up now should receive an invitation for a vaccine in the next week.

Phase 1 focuses on people at a higher risk of complications from the coronavirus.

Phase 1a covers health care workers, first responders, people living and working in long-term care facilities and people age 65 and older.

Phase 1b includes people age 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions as well as frontline essential workers like K-12 school staff and child care workers and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps.

Phase 1c covers other essential workers including people who work in foodservice, finance and energy. For a full list, visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/#phase1c.

“Phase 1 was really about individual risk,” Avula said.

People eligible under Phase 1 have higher individual risks of hospitalization and death, he said.

“Phase 2 is really about herd immunity.”

Herd immunity is estimated at 70% to 80% of a population vaccinated against an illness, and Avula said Virginia shoots for 75%.

He said getting to 60-65% of the population should be pretty easy.

The problem after that, he said, will be getting to the additional 10-15% of people who aren’t as inclined to get a vaccine whether because they don’t want it, don’t trust it or have barriers to getting it, such as transportation challenges.

Addressing the 15 million vaccine doses that Johnson & Johnson recently destroyed because they contained the wrong mix of ingredients, Avula said he’s encouraged that the quality control process worked as it should and that those doses were eliminated when found to be inadequate.

The coming weeks will bring greater access to the vaccine, Avula said, as more pharmacies and community vaccination Point of Dispensation PODs become available.

As of April 11, he said, all pharmacies in Virginia offering the vaccine will move into Phase 1c.

One in four total residents of the Lord Fairfax Health District has at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Virginia Department of Health reported on Friday.

That number is based on the district’s total population, even though only people 16 and older are approved to receive the vaccine, Avula said.

He said the percentage the VDH uses at its online dashboard is based on total population because that’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses.

The district, which covers Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren, reports that 60,997 people have received at least one vaccine dose, an increase of 1,746 since Thursday.

A third of the commonwealth now also reports having received at least one dose.

The VDH reports that 2,633,689 people (30.9% of the population) statewide have received at least one vaccine dose, an increase of 68,424, and 1,416,919 people (16.6%) have been fully vaccinated, an increase of 41,117.

Locally, 41,303 (or 17.2%) are fully vaccinated, an increase of 235.

Winchester has reported 12,253 total doses, up 292, including 4,913 people fully vaccinated, an increase of 25.

Frederick reports 35,828 doses administered, up 888, and 14,998 people fully vaccinated, up 84.

Clarke reports 7,124 doses, up 193 and 3,063 fully vaccinated, up 19.

Shenandoah reports 20,074 doses, up 381, and 8,489 fully vaccinated, up 50.

Page reports 9,350 doses, up 70, and 4,105 fully vaccinated, up 24.

Warren reports 13,145 doses, up 152, and 5,735 fully vaccinated, up 33.

On Friday, Northam announced several efforts aimed at increasing Virginia’s vaccinator workforce, including an initiative to recruit eligible individuals interested in administering vaccines.

“By further expanding our vaccinator workforce, we can ... ensure we have additional vaccination capacity as supply increases and more individuals become eligible to receive the vaccine,” he states in a Friday news release.

Health care providers authorized to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia include but are not limited to dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, optometrists and health professions students enrolled in an accredited Virginia program. Eligible providers may serve as vaccinators if they have the appropriate training and meet the supervision requirements.

Eligible health care providers can register at vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-community-vaccinator through either the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) or the newly established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry.

The VVVR is a temporary COVID-19 emergency program administered by VDH and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management that “serves as a pathway for eligible providers who only wish to serve as vaccinators during the COVID-19 response,” the release states.

“Qualified registry volunteers are required to complete vaccination-specific training as outlined by the CDC and VDH and demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. A list of credentialed volunteers will be made available to hospitals, nonprofit agencies, and local health departments operating community vaccination clinics upon request.”

While most Virginia localities are meeting the need for vaccinators through workforce channels, demand is expected to increase alongside the commonwealth’s growing supply of federally allocated vaccines, the release states.

Virginia on Friday added 1,538 new COVID-19 cases.

The Lord Fairfax district added 67 new cases on Thursday, 23 in Frederick, 19 in Shenandoah, 15 in Warren, seven in Winchester, two in Page and one in Clarke. Warren and Frederick each added one hospitalization.

Elsewhere in the region, Harrisonburg added 18 new cases and one hospitalization. Rockingham County added 15 cases.

Harrisonburg now has 6,206 cases, 178 hospitalizations and 95 deaths. Rockingham has 6,373 cases, 357 hospitalizations and 103 deaths.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com