Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has set a goal of vaccinating 50,000 Virginians a day against COVID-19 and appointed a local health district director to lead the effort.
Facing criticism that the first three weeks of the state’s vaccination campaign have been moving too slowly, Northam used a news conference Wednesday to tell health departments, pharmacies and other health-care providers to move quickly and with flexibility to vaccinate Virginia’s 8.5 million residents.
“Move quickly, please. Empty those freezers. Clear those shelves,” he said.
As of Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccination dashboard showed that just over 116,000 Virginians had received one dose of the vaccine and 2,204 had received the requisite two doses. The state has distributed over 481,000 doses and expects to continue distributing about 110,000 a week, Northam said.
RELATED STORY: Five things you need to know: The COVID-19 vaccine
The first doses of vaccines were intended for front-line health-care workers and residents of the state’s assisted living facilities and nursing homes, who have suffered the most severe consequences from the virus, a total of about 500,000 people. However, Northam said that health-care providers have flexibility to vaccinate Virginians in other priority groups.
“You are allowed to use your judgment,” he added. “We need to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Northam outlined the next two tiers of Virginians who will be prioritized for vaccinations. The next tier, about 1.2 million people, includes first responders; teachers; front-line essential manufacturing, food and grocery, transit and postal workers; and those aged 75 and older.
The third tier, about 2.5 million people, includes additional essential workers who cannot work remotely, those aged 65 and older, and anyone else age 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions.
The state is currently vaccinating about 10,000 to 12,000 people a day. Northam said the “short-term goal” is to increase that rate to 25,000 people a day and eventually 50,000 a day. He could not put a specific timeline to achieving that goal, however, saying in part that it depends on the availability of vaccines from manufacturers.
Because both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be fully effective, vaccinating the 4.2 million Virginians in the first three tiers would require 8.4 million doses. That would take 168 days, or about 5 1/2 months, at a rate of 50,000 a day. Nevertheless, Northam said he expected all Virginians who want a vaccine to be vaccinated by the summer.
“A lot of it will be supply-dependent,” Northam said. “We need more doses coming into Virginia. … As soon as we have the doses, our plan here is to be able to ramp this up.”
Northam appointed Dr. Danny Avula, director of the health district in the city of Richmond and Henrico County, to a temporary position leading the state’s vaccination effort. He also said that the Virginia National Guard will be used as necessary to assist in vaccinations and that Avula would coordinate those efforts with local health districts and health-care providers.
Northam’s news conference occurred on a day that Virginia set both single-day and seven-day records for new COVID-19 cases reported, as well as a new high for hospitalizations for treatment of the virus. Northam said the numbers remain concerning, but he did not announce any additional mitigation measures.
He also said that Virginia has not yet seen any confirmed cases of the new, more contagious strain of the virus that has been widely reported in England and some other European countries, as well as in several other U.S. states. But, he noted, “It will surely make it’s way here if not already so.”
Here are the latest numbers for the Historic Triangle, courtesy of the Virginia Department of Health’s website:
Editor’s Note: WYDaily staff contributed to this report. This story was originally published on InsideNoVa.
YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO CHECK OUT THESE STORIES: