Northam sets accelerated goals for vaccinations
Henrico/Richmond health director Dr. Danny Avula to be "field general" for state vaccination campaign
In his first COVID-19 news conference of the year, Gov. Ralph Northam said the state is aiming to administer 25,000 COVID vaccine shots per day to Virginians, up from the current 14,000 shots per day. He hopes to get to 50,000 daily vaccinations as soon as possible, although the state is waiting for more doses to arrive from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna.
Currently, only 2,204 people in the state have received two shots and are fully inoculated, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s Jan. 6 vaccination summary. Of 481,550 total COVID-19 vaccine doses received by the state, 116,247 have been administered as of Wednesday.
“I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms,” Northam said, addressing health departments, hospitals and long-term care facilities that may be saving doses. The governor said that this needs to stop, or facilities that are not administering all of their doses will receive fewer in future waves of distribution — a “use it or lose it” model, according to a news release from his office. The state is receiving about 110,000 doses per week.
Dr. Danny Avula, the director of Henrico County and Richmond health departments, will oversee the state’s vaccination campaign, Northam announced. “He’s a good man. He knows how to get things done. He will be our field general,” Northam said, coordinating between health departments and districts, health systems and other key players, including the Virginia National Guard. More than 2,000 facilities statewide have signed up to provide vaccinations, Oliver said Wednesday, and Virginians will be able to preregister for vaccines once the state receives more doses.
Some health care providers have needed more guidance, said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey, especially after vaccinating frontline medical staff in COVID-19 wards. Once that’s been accomplished, some hospitals and health departments have not been sure whether they can use remaining doses to vaccinate people at slightly less risk, such as police officers and EMTs. Carey said that the “shots in arms” directive allows vaccine providers to use their best judgment for their own communities, while continuing to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and VDH guidelines and priority groups.
Northam said despite the need for speed, health care facilities should continue to prioritize vulnerable populations: frontline health care providers, employees and residents at long-term care facilities, followed by other essential employees, including 285,000 teachers and child care providers. Grocery workers, postal employees, adults aged 75 and older and other high-risk groups are also included in group B, which numbers about 1.2 million people. Group C, about 2.5 million people, includes construction workers, transportation, food service and utilities, as well as people age 65 and older and others age 16 to 64 who have certain health issues.
More information about scheduling vaccinations, especially for people in Group B, will come out soon, the governor said Wednesday. Vaccinations for that group are expected to start in late January, Northam’s office said in a statement.
Northam said the state will need 17 million doses to give each of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents the two vaccine doses needed for full inoculations, an effort that will take months to achieve, he said. Late last year, Northam and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said they expect the general population to have access to vaccines by June.
COVID-19 case numbers have continued to zoom in Virginia, with a 16.7% seven-day positivity rate as of Wednesday, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The number of COVID-related deaths statewide is now at 5,226 and 377,300 cases have been recorded, while the state is averaging 4,708 new cases a day over the past seven days. Northam mentioned that more than 5,000 new daily cases and 30 deaths were recorded Wednesday.
On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will take part in an online event open to the public, Facts & Faith Friday. He will be joined by Northam, Oliver, VCU Massey Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Winn and other state officials in a discussion about the COVID-19 vaccine. To register for the event, click here.