As vaccine supply falters, local government leaders ask for help.
FALLS CHURCH – Before his press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam got a letter. Mayors and county chairs from across Northern Virginia asked for his help. Simply put, when the next batch of vaccine doses comes through, NoVa officials want equitable and transparent distribution.
This was written by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. That group consists of mayors and county chairs from various locales in the NoVa region, representing approximately 2.5 million people.
Since the start of the pandemic, the group worked closely together to coordinate their efforts, communication and resources. As Northam referenced in Wednesday’s speech, he believes some hospitals held on to vaccine doses, unprepared to administer them. With that being the case, the NoVa mayors want that unused shipment to come to them, as they’re ready right now to distribute.
The Issue for NoVa
David Tarter, chairman of the NVRC and mayor of Falls Church, pointed out his region’s health departments were some of the first to move from Phase 1A to Phase 1B in vaccine distribution.
The problem arose with the vaccine supply, of which there is a national shortage.
The demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in Northern Virginia far outweighs the supply. Earlier this week, Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax announced the cancellation of all inoculations from Jan. 26 until further notice.
Tarter noted that the group fully supports President Joe Biden’s efforts to increase vaccine supply. However, over a month into the vaccination rollout in Virginia, Tarter originally hoped for a faster response.
“By this point, I had hoped that supply would begin to rapidly increase. That hasn’t happened to the extent we would like,” Tarter said. “When the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] changed its guidelines and expanded the categories of people who could be vaccinated in the early phases, it overwhelmed the system with demand. With increased supply and additional vaccines coming online, I am hopeful that the waiting lists will diminish and people who want to be vaccinated will be able to get them.”
Supply Doesn’t Meet Demand
The NVRC addressed the issue in their letter to the governor.
“In Northern Virginia we are more than adequately equipped to handle up to 30,000 vaccinations per week in Fairfax alone (Health District and INOVA) and we can stretch that number to 65-70,000 vaccinations per week when we add Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun and Prince William Health Districts to the mix,” the letter read in part. “According to [Virginia Department of Health’s] website as of the week ending January 22, we will have vaccinated with at least one dose approximately 100,000 people.”
Earlier this week in Fairfax, the local health department noted that they had an increased vaccine demand, but the supply did not match. Last week, they had 156,000 people express interest in the vaccine, compared to approximately 40,000 the week before.
Tarter said he hears when the governor says vaccine shipments are coming to Virginia. He just wants to make sure everyone knows how and when they’re distributed.
“I know a lot of folks are frustrated and anxious. This is serious business,” Tarter said. “I understand from a recent media report [Tuesday] that the supply of vaccine may be increased next week. It is only through the increased supply that the waiting list of people who want to be vaccinated will be eliminated.”
NoVa asks for Help
The NVRC letter requests “direct assistance” from Northam in regards to the transparent and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to health departments in NoVa.
“We believe regions, such as Northern Virginia, that have the capacity and infrastructure to vaccinate more people should be given additional doses to help meet that demand,” Tarter said.
In the letter, the group also asked for a streamlined process to release doses directly to NOVA. Additionally, they requested details concerning which facilities attained doses.
“Simply put the problem is a sufficient, predictable and equitable supply of vaccine,” the letter read in part.
Tarter expressed his hopes for the collaborative letter.
“We wanted to be on record with the governor that our local health districts have the capacity to vaccinate 70,000 people per week,” Tarter said. “It is our hope as more vaccine becomes available that those areas that have additional capacity to vaccinate will receive additional supply.”
A Brighter Horizon
On Tuesday, the White House announced that the Biden administration worked to procure an additional 200 million doses. That’s 100 million doses from Pfizer and 100 million doses from Moderna. Then on Wednesday, Northam announced Virginia’s supply would increase by 16% beginning next week.
Tarter noted the administration’s efforts in the fight against the coronavirus.
“This is war. More Americans are dying from COVID than died in combat in World War II. We need to be on a wartime footing with this pandemic – from vaccination production to administration,” Tarter said. “The president’s plan to increase supply through invoking the Defense Production Act and putting an emphasis on increased manufacturing and supply is extremely helpful.”
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]
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