First batch of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine distributed in Va.
140,000 doses received this week are going to long-term care facilities and hospitals
Virginia health districts and health care facilities statewide began receiving the newly approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine this week, Virginia Department of Health announced Tuesday.
About 140,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were expected to arrive by Wednesday, as well as 50,000 more doses of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine, which will be distributed to 96 sites across the state. Last week, an initial shipment of 72,000 Pfizer vaccine doses was distributed to 18 hospitals in Virginia, with the first shots going to frontline medical workers caring directly for COVID-19 patients.
The additional batch of the Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t require the same special ultra-cold storage as Pfizer, will allow long-term care facility (LTCF) workers and residents to be vaccinated. Most Virginia nursing homes are taking part in the federal LTCF Pharmacy Partnership Program, which brings teams from CVS and Walgreens to administer shots onsite at the facilities, beginning the week of Dec. 28, according to VDH.
The federal vaccine task force, Operation Warp Speed, is expected to send about 100,000 vaccine doses each week (50,000 of each vaccine) to Virginia for the next few weeks, but VDH cautions that the actual amount of vaccine received here is “a moving target and is dependent on when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured.” At the start of the month, VDH officials announced that the state would get 480,000 doses by the end of the year, but revised the estimate to 370,650 doses.
Health care providers and workers at hospitals in COVID units, followed by long-term care facility residents and employees, are on the top priority lists for vaccinations in Virginia and in other states; in the commonwealth, the populations number about 500,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance this week from a panel of doctors and public health experts, setting priority vaccinations. After frontline care givers and long-term care facility residents and workers receive the vaccine, the next populations in line for COVID-19 vaccinations would be people ages 75 and older and about 30 million “frontline essential workers,” including grocery store workers, teachers and emergency responders. Others — including people age 65 to 74 and those with serious health conditions — will follow these groups, and Virginia public health officials expect the vaccines to be broadly available by summer 2021.
“Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. With Pfizer-BioNTech and now Moderna vaccines available, more Virginians are able to get vaccinated,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said in a statement. “The interest we are seeing from community members on when they can get vaccinated indicates people want this protection. We are working hard to get vaccines to people as quickly as possible. In the meantime, please continue to wear a face mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently.”
The Richmond region — including the Richmond, Henrico, Chickahominy and Chesterfield health districts — received its first shipment of vaccine doses Tuesday. Local health districts will offer closed vaccination events and clinics into the new year, health officials said, but cautioned Virginians to “remain vigilant in COVID-19 prevention practices.”
Roanoke city and Alleghany health districts held their first vaccination event for up to 300 EMS workers in the region, as well as fire chiefs from Allegheny, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke counties and the cities of Roanoke and Salem. Roanoke Fire Chief David Hoback called it “a monumental day.”
“It’s been hard on not only this community and but on our nation. This is another step in slowing the process and ending the pandemic,” he says. “Fire and EMS personnel are often on the front line.”
VDH announced Wednesday that its COVID-19 dashboard will include data on how many people have been administered the vaccines, as well as which localities have received vaccine doses and how many. According to the Dec. 23 update, 227,425 total doses have been distributed throughout the state, and 19,943 people have been vaccinated with one dose. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are completed with two shots, so no one has yet been fully vaccinated, according to VDH.
Despite vaccines becoming available, Virginia is under increased restrictions due to a significant rise in the number of cases and deaths, especially in Southwest Virginia. As of Wednesday, the state has recorded 314,481 total cases and 4,705 deaths, and the average number of daily new cases is 3,842 per day over the past week, while 610.6 new cases per 100,000 people have been reported in the last two weeks, according to VDH. The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association reported 2,586 people are currently hospitalized with COVID or are awaiting test results throughout the state, while 33% of ventilators are in use and 81% of ICU beds are occupied by people with COVID and without the virus.