The head of Virginia’s vaccination program said on Tuesday that next month, the Food and Drug Administration will likely fully approve the COVID-19 vaccines, and approve their use for children ages 5 to 11 as well.
On a conference call, Dr. Danny Avula predicted that the two moves would “help move us collectively forward” toward getting more Virginians vaccinated against the coronavirus. He said the commonwealth currently stands at about 64% of eligible people (those 12 and older) vaccinated.
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the U.S. are authorized but not approved; and the road to approval requires more data, including those produced in the real world outside of a clinical trial, CNN reported.
Avula also characterized as “likely” the possibility that third doses of the two-dose vaccines will be recommended for those in immune-suppressed populations.
The news comes as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the commonwealth.
State epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake had the numbers: The COVID-19 case rate in Virginia has been increasing for more than a month, Peake said, with 1,759 new cases reported Tuesday. Hospitalizations have also grown, currently sitting at 770 compared with 396 on Aug. 1. And about 80% of the COVID-19 cases whose variants have been identified are delta-variant cases, she said.
“Because the delta variant is more infectious, a higher percentage of the community needs to be vaccinated to interrupt that spread from person to person,” Peake said. “The vaccination rate in the U.S., and in Virginia, isn’t high enough yet to curb that spread.”
That said, Avula said the commonwealth is “finally seeing an increase in the daily rate of vaccination,” nearing 14,000 doses a day, up from a low of about 11,000.
“I’d love to say that’s because of our increased outreach efforts and our really thoughtful campaigns, but I think the reality is that it is the impact of delta … that has put vaccination back on the radar for many Virginians,” Avula said.
Avula emphasized that vaccination is “our best option to protect us against severe disease,” and that while breakthrough infections in vaccinated people do happen, “what we’re consistently seeing is that fully vaccinated people are protected against the severe consequences of the delta variant.”
Vaccination also minimizes the chance of mutations, Peake said: The virus mutates and changes “when it’s making copies of itself. So when it’s spreading rapidly, it has more chances to mutate.”
He said Northern Virginia leads the commonwealth in vaccination, particularly among adolescents. “Almost all of the Northern Virginia localities have north of 70%, some as high as 85% in that 12-to-15 category. So that has been really encouraging.”
Avula doubted that delta is the last variation of the virus that will pop up. “It’s very likely that we’re going to see another variant that our existing vaccines are not as effective [against],” he said, adding that delta is cutting into the efficacy numbers of the existing vaccines.
“COVID is with us to stay in some form or another,” Avula said. He predicted that annual boosters, similar to flu shots, would be the new normal.
Avula also said the commonwealth is developing a way for Virginians to download a QR code to prove they’ve been vaccinated.
Currently, residents can print out a PDF of proof of vaccination for the benefit of businesses that require it to enter their premises or use their services. But some businesses are starting to require the codes, and Avula said the state is working on a platform to make the information they already have accessible in that way.
“A company will say ‘Hey, we require proof of vaccination for you to participate in our service,’” Avula said. “And what has just recently emerged is that some of those companies are saying ‘We need proof of vaccination that can only be accessed through a QR code.’ And so, to make sure that Virginians have the ability to participate in those things, we want to provide that functionality. So that’s what we’re working through right now.”
He said it would likely be up and running in two to three weeks, and emphasized that it wasn’t a government-issued, so-called “vaccine passport.”
“We’ll provide that for Virginians,” he said, “but we aren’t going to have the actual passport, or provide guidelines around how that should be used at all.”
He predicted that more and more places in the public and private sectors would require proof of vaccination, as the shots reach full FDA approval.
To find out where to get vaccinated, go to vaccinate.virginia.gov, or call 877 VAX-IN-VA.
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