Virginia Hospitals Adjust, Adapt to New Vaccine Plans

By Megan Schiffres

December 19, 2020

After losing 110,000 doses, Virginia hospitals and health districts plan ahead.

RICHMOND – It’s time to adjust and adapt. That’s how Virginia hospitals and health districts are responding to Friday’s announcement that they’ll be getting 110,000 fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses than expected this month.

A fraction of the healthcare workers in Virginia received the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week. Many more are still vulnerable to the virus.

Eighteen Virginia hospitals received initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine. Collectively, they received a total of 72,125 doses. Frontline healthcare workers received these doses.

In total, the VDH estimated the Commonwealth needs 680,000 doses of the vaccine to fulfill its most immediate needs. Virginia will receive only 370,650 doses next week. The Commonwealth still needs an estimated 607,875 doses of the vaccine to protect its healthcare workers.

Vaccine Distribution

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) distributes the COVID-19 vaccine to state health departments. In Virginia, the Department of Health manages the distribution of vaccine supplies to healthcare facilities.

They decide which hospitals get doses of the vaccine and how much they receive. None of the hospital systems in Virginia that Dogwood contacted

The VDH released vaccination prioritization guidance earlier this month. This guidance  sets up a tiered system for hospitals to use when distributing the vaccine. Due to scarce supplies, only healthcare workers and their support staff receive COVID-19 vaccines in Virginia. Some long-term care facility residents and staff are also receiving the vaccine in Virginia.

The guidance released in early December projected that Virginia needs 169,500 doses for healthcare personnel directly engaged in caring for patients with COVID-19. Other healthcare providers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients will require 70,000 doses, according to the guidance. Virginia needs 43,000 doses to vaccinate all other healthcare personnel, according to the guidance.

To vaccinate long term care residents and staff in the Commonwealth, the guidance says Virginia needs 158,000 doses.

“This tiered system was established to ensure that healthcare workers and those most at risk on the front lines of the pandemic receive the initial doses in our limited national supply,” said HCA Healthcare Associate Vice President of Communications Jeff Caldwell.

HCA Healthcare owns several hospitals and medical centers throughout the Commonwealth. These hospitals include Chippenham Hospital, Reston Hospital Center, and John Randolph Medical Center.

RELATED: Virginia Won’t Get Its Full Vaccine Shipment This Month. Blame Federal Confusion.

Vaccine May Take Longer

The VDH’s announcement Friday does not change the hospital system’s plans for who will receive the vaccine first. However, it will change how long it takes for everyone to receive a shot.

“If there are any impacts from this change in the number of doses available to the Commonwealth, it will just mean it takes longer to work through subsequent tiers who are less at risk for direct COVID-19 exposure,” Caldwell said.

Representatives of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) agreed that while it may take longer, everyone included in the VDH’s top tier of need for the vaccine will receive one soon.

“It is undetermined if and by how much the change in estimated quantity of initial shipments will impact how long it takes to vaccinate all of Phase 1a, but we still anticipate that everyone in Phase 1a who wants to be vaccinated will be vaccinated soon,” said Cat Long, public information officer for the RHHD.

Some Hospitals Still Vaccinating

Some hospitals in the Commonwealth are still working their way through the first shipment of vaccines.

“While we have not mandated that our front-line staff in the top tiers get the vaccine, we have found that the vast majority of our doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and front-line staff have volunteered to get the vaccine. Thus far our supply has been ample for inoculating our top tier medical staff. To date, we have inoculated more than 3,000 of our top tier staff in Central Virginia,” Caldwell said.

Representatives of another large hospital system, Ballad Health, agreed that they received enough doses to vaccinate their staff.

“Ballad Health has been able to vaccinate more than 1,700 team members and physicians in its 1A group – those who are working on the frontlines of this pandemic and therefore more in need of protection from the virus. We’re confident that everyone in this group who has wanted the vaccine will be able to receive it,” said Ashlea Ramey, communication manager for Ballad Health.

Ballad Health owns several hospitals in the Southwest region of Virginia. These include Dickenson Community Hospital, Johnston Memorial Hospital, and Lonesome Pine Hospital.

Bon Secours Virginia Health System is another large hospital system which services the Richmond and Rappahannock area. Bon Secours is also still distributing the doses they already received.

“We are currently focused on utilizing the doses we have already received and, at this time, this news has no implications on our current distribution plan,” said Jenna Green, public relations and communications specialist for Bon Secours.

Some Districts Still Awaiting Vaccine

While some health districts are enjoying an ample supply of vaccines, others are still waiting on their first shipment.

In Richmond and Henrico’s combined health district, district employees say they don’t have any vaccines available, for anyone.

“RHHD does not have COVID-19 vaccines in hand, but expects a first shipment to arrive in the coming weeks,” Long said.

In the meantime, the health district is moving forward with plans to educate healthcare workers on the vaccine.

“We are moving forward with our plan to make vaccines available to those in the highest priority subcategories. We are also moving forward with our plans to offer education and resources to our phase 1a individuals as well as others who will be making a decision about vaccination,” said Long.

No New Information From the VDH

The VDH said they have no further information about where doses will end up in Virginia.

“We will continue to allocate vaccine that becomes available to Virginia as quickly, efficiently and equitably as possible so healthcare personnel and LTCF residents can receive it,” said Tammie Smith, public relations coordinator for the VDH.

The VDH did not respond to questions related to why the amount of doses Virginia will receive has decreased. Smith did say changes in the amount of doses the Commonwealth will receive is not out of the ordinary.

“Adjustments like this in an operation of this scale are expected and not unusual,” Smith said.

Meg Schiffres is Dogwood’s associate editor. You can reach her at [email protected].

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