Virginia was not allocated as many doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it expected this week, but an unexpected bump in the Pfizer vaccine made up for the shortfall and kept the state on track to get through Phase 1B by mid-April and open up vaccinations to the general population by May 1 or sooner.
That’s according to Dr. Danny Avula, the coordinator of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine program, who said Friday that he expects a big boost of the J&J vaccine as part of the 11 million doses that the company has promised to deliver nationwide next week.
Avula said Virginia received 49,000 J&J doses this week, but he predicts those figures will rise to about 150,000 doses per week in April.
Meanwhile, the state received 252,000 Pfizer doses this week — what Avula called an “unexpected surprise,” although he noted the White House said it would be a one-time bump. The commonwealth also received 164,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“Our federal retail pharmacy allocation has jumped up a bunch,” Avula said. “Last week it was about 127,000. It’s gone up this week to 208,000 … So what that means for the public is that there will be many more opportunities to get vaccinated for the 1B population through pharmacies.”
Avula said the state is also monitoring vaccine rates in various localities to ensure that all of Virginia moves to Phase 2 at roughly the same time.
“We are having to shift allocations to do that because what we’ve learned over the last month is that demand is really different in different parts of the state,” Avula said.
While the state’s vaccine allocation has been primarily based on population, Avula said it will also take into account people’s interest in getting vaccinated, “which appears to be varying wildly in different localities.”
“So when you look at communities like Northern Virginia, the greater Richmond area, not only do they have more people, but they also have a demographic that is more interested in getting vaccinated, so we are shifting allocations to those communities because we’re really trying to get everyone to Phase 2,” he said.
Avula estimated that might mean Northern Virginia could potentially see an increase of 20% to 30% in vaccine allocation, depending on demand.
The commonwealth is also learning as it goes.
For one, it scaled down the mass vaccination site in the city of Danville and transitioned it to more of a hub-and-spoke model, with the main site still based in the Danville Mall, but teams are now being dispatched to surrounding areas.
As to why demand in places like Danville wasn’t as high as expected, Avula said it’s likely a combination of hesitancy and access.
He cited survey data showing more hesitancy among Republicans to get the vaccine, as well as access-related challenges, such as the lack of mass transportation in rural areas.
But the lower demand in Danville caused many Virginians from outside the area to flock to the city’s mass vaccination site, prompting authorities to warn that anyone traveling to Danville without an appointment would be turned away.
“Where you live shouldn’t be what determines your access to the vaccine,” Avula said, stressing that the state’s entire vaccination model is to prioritize high-risk populations.
With the exception of Danville, however, Avula said demand overall at the state’s four mass vaccination centers remains high.
He estimated that demand will likely drop and that come May and June, the state will have to focus more on winning over people who have refused to get a vaccine to reach its goal of 75% herd immunity by June or July. That will likely involve relying on personal physicians to work with their patients who are skeptical of the vaccine.
In the meantime, Avula said Virginia is continuing its outreach to Black and brown populations to ensure vaccines are distributed equally.
The state’s strategy includes hosting targeted events, allowing walk-ups at certain sites for those who either can’t or don’t want to preregister virtually and reserving a certain number of slots for minority populations.
“So we definitely have been weighting the preregistration lists for African American and Latino communities, and I think that’s made a difference,” Avula said.
FEMA is also establishing a federally-run vaccination site in Norfolk, officials announced at a White House COVID-19 briefing on Friday morning.
It is set to open on March 31 at the Military Circle Mall. The site will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Norfolk was selected based on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index and census data, along with input from local and state officials.
“We are excited to welcome FEMA to Norfolk’s Military Circle Mall vaccination site as a critical partner in the effort to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19,” Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander said. “The support, resources and presence of the federal government are greatly appreciated, and we are thankful that our most vulnerable residents will be prioritized.”
That site will be one of three mass vaccination sites managed by the federal government. The other two will be in Boston and Newark, New Jersey.
WTOP’s Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.
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