The federal government will increase orders by 16% in the coming weeks.
RICHMOND – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference Wednesday that he bears ultimate responsibility for the failures of the Commonwealth’s vaccine rollout.
“At the end of the day, as the governor, I’m responsible,” Northam said.
At the same time, Northam and other officials who spoke during the event made it clear the Trump administration made vaccine distribution more difficult. The governor criticized the previous administration for its lack of transparency about the availability of vaccine doses and its disorganization. However, he said the new administration are handling distribution differently.
“I’ve spoken to the White House twice in the past two weeks,” Northam said. “I heard a commitment at the national level to work together and find solutions. I heard a spirit of bipartisan cooperation,” he said.
Virginia is facing a shortage of vaccine doses, forcing the Commonwealth to adjust how it will allocate doses throughout the state.
This problem originated, Northam said, with the Trump administration encouraging states like Virginia to move into 1B by promising more doses. However, the administration misrepresented the size of the federal stockpile. After the announcement, locations with vaccine supply held onto those doses, according to Northam. Now, some places have doses they’re not ready to administer because enough patients haven’t waited the requisite three weeks since their first dose. Other clinics don’t have enough doses for even a first round.
A key logistical operation in the coming days will be shifting doses to where they need to go, according to the governor.
More Vaccines Are Coming
Northam didn’t deny that the vaccine rollout is facing challenges. He said he understands and shares Virginians’ frustration with the slow and often confusing process. But his press conference was hopeful.
His administration set an initial goal of giving 25,000 shots per day and has surpassed it. Next, Virginia will aim for a benchmark of 50,000 daily shots.
Starting Thursday, meeting that goal will be a little easier as states are set to receive 16% more doses in their weekly orders. The federal government will also lock in distribution rates on a monthly basis, rather than weekly, which will facilitate state-level planning.
Mike McDermott, the president and CEO of Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, said during the press conference that Virginia’s hospitals have administered 318,000 doses. These hospitals have also increased vaccinations by 35% over the past week.
The operation is steadily scaling upward. Northam said his intention is that by the end of summer, every Virginian who wants to be vaccinated will be able to get an appointment.
“That’s Virginia’s goal, and Virginia is prepared to deliver,” Northam said.
The state’s capacity to administer vaccines is constantly increasing, but even at a rate of 50,000 doses per day, it could take nearly a year to administer the 18 million shots necessary to fully vaccinate everyone in the state. According to the Mayo Clinic, vaccinating 70% of the population would be sufficient to achieve herd immunity and halt the pandemic.
Distributing The Vaccine
Hospital systems were the first facilities in the state to receive vaccine doses. This made sense because vaccinating healthcare workers was a top priority. Northam estimated that about 500,000 people qualified for vaccination during phase 1A. Only 76,000 Virginians have been fully vaccinated. Despite this, the state has already moved into phases 1B and 1C, where logistics will be a bit more complicated. That means healthcare workers are now competing with a much larger pool of other qualified patients trying to access a vaccine.
Hospitals are vaccinating quickly, but phases 1B and 1C include a lot of people such as including retail and grocery workers, fire and EMS, teachers and other essential personnel.
Step one will be getting these doses from hospitals to members of the community, Northam explained.
On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) issued guidance to clinics on how local health districts should prioritize different people in phase 1B. Half of vaccine doses will go to those 65 and older. The other half will be reserved for frontline workers and those vulnerable to illness. Phase 1B is large, so this process could take several weeks or even months to complete.
Getting In Line For The Vaccine
Right now, the best way to get in line for a vaccine is to register for one at your local health district, Northam said. He encouraged folks to confirm their eligibility before registering.
“If you jump the line, you’re taking it from someone who needs it more,” Northam said. “We will all have to trust each other, and I’m asking everyone to do the right thing.”
Soon, VDH will roll out a centralized online registration tool for the entire state.
Northam acknowledges that currently, vaccination clinics in various communities are relying on volunteer nurses to administer vaccines. The Virginia National Guard will be a key part of the long-term plan, but at the moment, more than 1,000 Guard members remain in Washington, D.C. They are monitoring the city following the armed insurrection on Jan. 6, but will soon help run clinics, Northam said.
More Transparency On Who Gets Vaccine
Thus far, the Virginia Department of Health has released limited data on the race and ethnicity of those vaccinated. Of the 525,000 people vaccinated so far, nearly 310,000 haven’t reported their race or ethnicity. For some, this has raised concerns about whether the vaccine is being administered equitably.
On Wednesday, Northam announced several new measures that will help address these concerns.
On Monday, Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver wrote to every clinician in Virginia, Northam says, and told them to begin collecting race and ethnicity data. The VDH also provided updates to all its customer-facing applications and is asking those registering for a vaccine to list their demographic data during registration and at the time they receive it.
Northam said his administration supports legislation that would make it mandatory for vaccinators to collect race and ethnicity data.
The governor also announced that he’s issuing an executive order to extend COVID-19 related restrictions already in place in Virginia. The rules, including those that limit indoor dining and large social gatherings, were set to expire this week.
The executive order will extend the current policies through the end of February. Although the vaccine has arrived, Northam says Virginians shouldn’t relax yet.
“This is no time to let down our guard,” said Northam.
Ashley Spinks Dugan is a freelancer for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].