State opens COVID-19 vaccinations for Virginians 65 and older
With immediate expansion, half of Va. is now eligible for COVID-19 shot
Updated Jan. 18: A vaccine dose shortfall in the federal stockpile will likely lower the weekly number of doses Virginia receives, but state officials say they will continue with expansion of group 1b.
As part of a federal push to speed up the pace of vaccinations, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday that the state will immediately expand COVID-19 vaccination availability to Virginians ages 65 and older, as well as others with health issues.
With regard to the expansion of vaccinations, “this means about half of Virginia is eligible for the vaccine,” Northam said. He added that the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps is training volunteers to administer shots and called for anyone with medical training — including retired doctors and other providers — to volunteer.
State Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said that vaccination expansion is moving quickly but is not yet at the 50,000 doses a day that is needed to establish “herd immunity.”
Only 25.7% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses sent to Virginia had been administered as of Thursday, Jan. 14, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The average number of shots over the past seven days was at 11,835 — far below the governor’s short-term goal of 25,000 shots per day. Currently, 215,101 people in Virginia have received at least one dose, and 27,429 are fully vaccinated.
Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association President and CEO Sean Connaughton asked Northam in a Dec. 30 letter to “aggressively” expand “the commonwealth’s efforts to vaccinate Virginians as quickly as possible.”
Asked why Virginia’s vaccination pace is lagging behind that in other states, Northam chalked it up to complicated logistics and said the state’s vaccination rates are increasing each day. He also said that “all options are on the table” about enacting further COVID-19 regulations.
The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed team said Tuesday that it would no longer hold back second doses of the vaccine and asked states to expand access to doses to larger portions of the populations. Northam said he is speaking with President-elect Joe Biden’s nominated federal vaccinations coordinator, Bechara Choucair, the chief health officer for Oakland-based managed care organization Kaiser Permanente, later today to coordinate the state’s response after Biden becomes president next week.
Washington D.C., Health and Human Services Department Deputy Mayor Wayne Turnage, former chief of staff for Gov. Tim Kaine, spoke at the news conference and sought to knock down myths and misinformation about the vaccine. As many as 60% to 70% of citizens need to be vaccinated in order to establish herd immunity, he said, adding that many Black people still have reservations based on historical wrongs committed by doctors and researchers.
Turnage added that COVID-19 vaccines are unlike vaccines against measles or chickenpox, which include live versions of the viruses. The new COVID-19 vaccines do not include the coronavirus, Turnage says, but instead include a molecule that “tricks” the body into creating antibodies to fight the coronavirus when a patient encounters it after full inoculation.
“There is no chance that these vaccines will transform into the actual virus and make you sick,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virginia was in the bottom 11 states in terms of vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people; as of Jan. 13, the state had administered an average of 2,552 shots per 100,000 residents — compared to 6,177 people per 100,000 in West Virginia, the top-ranked state.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19-related deaths continues to spike in Virginia, with 233 deaths just since Monday, VDH reported. That’s just over one fatality every 30 minutes in the past seven days.
According to a statewide poll conducted Dec. 11-30 by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, more than seven in 10 Virginians polled said they would likely get a COVID-19 vaccine, a significant improvement since the last poll in September 2020, when 58% said they were very or somewhat likely to get a shot. The December poll reports that 73% of minority respondents would agree to get vaccinated, compared with 69% of white people polled.
There are still large differences in opinion based on geography and political leanings, though — 88% of Democratic voters said they were very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine, but only 60% of Republican voters said the same. Also, people in western and northwestern regions of the state were less likely to get the vaccine, with 53% saying they were very or somewhat likely. By contrast, 87% of Northern Virginia residents said they would get the shots.
The Virginia Department of Education issued guidance about school reopenings Thursday afternoon, replacing guidelines last updated in October. Many school systems have extended remote learning longer than expected because of spikes in COVID-19 rates, although children are less likely to get the virus than adults.
The primary change is that schools are recommended to use CDC Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making to assess the risk of transmission of the virus in individual schools. “A school division’s capacity to successfully implement mitigation strategies and local community disease data should be factored into school operations plans,” the VDOE said in a statement. “But the risks of not opening schools need to be carefully considered and given proper weight.”
VDH also launched an online tool this week that allows Virginia residents to register for an alert when they can be vaccinated, based on age, occupation and medical status.