Vaccinating the highest priority Virginians against COVID-19 will take a couple of months, and residents who are not vulnerable need to be patient, Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s vaccine coordinator said Thursday.
“We don’t have the supply that we need. We’re going to have to be patient,” said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico County health districts, who was appointed by Northam in early January to lead the state’s vaccine effort.
To date, Virginia Department of Health data show that the state has received about 959,000 doses of vaccines and administered just under 400,000, ranking it ahead of only California among states in terms of percentage of vaccines administered, according to one tracker. In addition, local health districts have said they are not receiving as many doses as they need to vaccinate all residents in the high-risk categories – those age 65 and older or younger residents with serious health conditions.
Speaking during an event at a vaccination clinic at Richmond International Raceway, Avula urged Virginians who are not in those categories to let more vulnerable residents get their vaccines first.
“It is going to be a couple of months,” he added. “At the end of the day, everyone who wants to get vaccinated will get the opportunity.”
Northam reiterated the plea for patience and praised President Joe Biden for authorizing use of the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine supply. “They have hit the ground running,” Northam, a Democrat, said of the Biden administration. “It is reassuring that we have new partners in Washington.”
Similar praise came from the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which has coordinated response to the pandemic among the region’s governments.
“We heartily applaud the administration’s swift action to invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacture of the COVID vaccine, testing supplies and PPE,” said P. David Tarter, chair of the commission and mayor of Falls Church. “Faster vaccination is key to saving lives, getting kids back in school, and our economy back in business…in short, getting life back to normal.”
Mixed messaging from the federal government had left some vaccine providers concerned they would not have enough vaccines to provide second doses to those who have already received first doses, Avula noted. Both of the two major vaccines currently approved in the United States — made by Moderna and Pfizer — require two doses, administered three or four weeks apart, to be fully effective.
Avula said the federal government has been shipping designated second doses directly to providers who have administered first doses, so that should not be a concern.
“We’re really trying to ensure that every provider has confidence in that and goes ahead and uses their first doses with assurances that those second doses will come,” he added.
Addressing the gap between doses received and those administered in Virginia, Avula said the state’s database tracking vaccine administration does not include 90,000 doses that have been administered but are not yet recorded. A team of 10 state employees is working to manually upload that data.
“My job is to really close the gap and make sure we get the data right,” he said.
In addition, 226,000 doses were shipped directly to CVS and Walgreen’s pharmacies under a federal program to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities. But some of those vaccinations have been delayed due to COVID-19 outbreaks at those centers.
“So that’s going to stretch out our timeline a bit,” he said, but added that all those vaccinations should be completed by the end of the month.
Avula said the state is closely tracking vaccine shipments. “I don’t have any concerns of vaccine being lost or misplaced.”
In opening remarks at the event, Northam noted that today is the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case in the United States.
“We have come a long way since that date but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “I want Virginians to be patient. I want them to know we’re going to get to everybody.”