Virginia is ‘ready’ to distribute COVID-19 vaccine, governor says
Health commissioner anticipates an approved vaccine by end of year
Gov. Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Tuesday that Virginia will be ready to launch a vaccination program as soon as a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Oliver said that he is encouraged by Pfizer’s announcement this week that its COVID vaccine under testing now has a 90% effectiveness rate, and he expects either that vaccine or another being developed will be available by the end of the year. “We are ready to get that vaccine and administer it to citizens here in the commonwealth,” Oliver said, while cautioning that it will take “months to vaccinate millions” and longer for people to develop immunity. The state will begin vaccinating frontline medical workers and more vulnerable people — such as nursing home residents — before distributing the vaccine more broadly, officials have said.
Oliver added that the advisory panel set up by the Virginia Department of Health has developed a plan for dispensing vaccines across the state that was submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and approved in October. Following Pfizer’s news and other developments, the team has “revised and tweaked” its plan, which will be shared with the CDC and the U.S. Department of Defense, which will also lead federal vaccination efforts, Oliver said.
Safety and efficacy of the vaccine are top of mind for state public health officials and others, Oliver said. He added that the state health department already has plenty of mass vaccination experience, including its annual flu shot campaigns. This fall, the vaccination rate is up 35% compared to last year, Oliver said.
Northam said he was “heartened” that President-Elect Joe Biden has named members to a COVID-19 task force that include several doctors and that he hopes the new administration will provide more guidelines and help to states than the current administration has done. He noted that 73% of registered voters in Virginia voted in the general election and that 2.8 million Virginians voted early in person or by mail.
The governor said that he continues to be concerned about the climbing number of COVID-19 cases in the Southwest region, which is at a 9% positivity rate, according to the VDH, and is seeing an increase in hospitalization numbers.
Northam and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said that the issue of more COVID patients is putting strains on staffing at Southwest Va. hospitals, they have heard from Ballad Health, which runs most hospitals and health care centers in the region.
Encouraging Virginians to keep Thanksgiving celebrations smaller this year, Northam said, “I want you all to be safe and healthy.”