Va. expects 480,000 COVID vaccine doses by end of December
Vaccines will come from Pfizer and Moderna
Virginia expects to receive 480,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of December through the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program, the Virginia Department of Health announced Friday, based on new information available.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that the state expected only 70,000 vaccine doses by the end of the year, which would be directed to frontline health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. The announcement Friday still designates health care providers and nursing home residents as the state’s two top-priority groups, but the federal allotment of vaccine dosages will cover the majority of these populations, which VDH estimates at 500,000 total in the state.
“Vaccines will be provided to Virginians in a way that is fair, ethical and transparent,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said in a statement Friday. “We will focus initially on the groups that have been most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infections and those whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 infections. Over time, as more vaccine supply becomes available, more Virginians will be able to get vaccinated, and we can look forward to a time when this pandemic will end.”
According to VDH, the first shipment of vaccines — 72,150 doses — are expected to come from Pfizer, whose vaccine is the furthest along in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process. If approved, those will go solely to health care providers in Virginia who directly care for COVID-19 patients. Subsequent weekly shipments from Pfizer and Moderna will be divided among health care workers and long-term care facility residents in the state through a partnership between the CDC, CVS and Walgreen pharmacies.
The updated information came from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which met Tuesday and voted to formally recommend that health care providers and long-term care patients be prioritized for vaccine distribution. The Virginia Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (VDMAC) and the Virginia Unified Command voted this week to adopt the ACIP recommendations for Virginia.
Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept in ultra-cold storage (-70 degrees Celsius), and VDH says the 72,150 initial doses will go directly to “geographically diverse” health care systems with ultra-cold storage capacity, although the statement Friday did not designate which hospital systems in Virginia have such storage capability and who will receive the first vaccines. A VDH spokesperson said the department has identified health systems with ultra-cold storage throughout the state, which will ensure coverage in every region, although they are not naming specific facilities.
Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have all announced COVID-19 vaccines in recent weeks with effectiveness of at least 90%; Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines both require refrigerated storage, while AstraZeneca’s does not, which simplifies distribution. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines have been submitted for FDA emergency approval, and at least Pfizer’s is expected to be approved this month. The CDC and VDH have said that vaccines will not be mandated for anyone, and they will be provided for free.
Northam said Wednesday that it will take at least until early summer to have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate all 8.5 million Virginians. Once health care workers and long-term care residents receive vaccinations, Virginians with medical vulnerabilities and people over the age of 65 will be next in line as more doses become available, Northam said. The state appointed a vaccine advisory workgroup in the summer to prepare for a massive vaccination campaign, which will involve commercial pharmacies, health district employees and the Virginia National Guard, which has assisted with public COVID-19 testing this year.
VDH reported 247,380 total COVID-19 cases Friday, an increase of 2,877 cases in the past 24 hours, and 4,160 total deaths. Virginia is better off than many other states, including neighbors Kentucky and Tennessee, but its seven-day positivity rate hit 9.5% as of Nov. 30, the state’s highest rate since early June.
Although every region of Virginia has seen overall increases in community spread, the worst-hit region is the Southwest. The Mount Rogers and Cumberland Plateau health districts saw rates spike above 20%, followed closely by Lenowisco, which hit 18.7% on Nov. 30. Ballad Health, the Tennessee-based health system that also serves Southwest Virginia, announced this week that it was sending a second refrigerated morgue truck to the Tri-Cities region, which includes Bristol, to deal with an overflow of COVID-19 dead.
Nationwide, more than 100,000 people were hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday alone, and more than 14.3 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID since February, with 278,417 deaths reported as of Friday.