The Vaccine is Safe, Fauci Says The Vaccine is Safe, Fauci Says

Dr. Danny Avula gave a weekly COVID-19 vaccine update, noting that Virginia will receive 180,000 first doses next week. 

RICHMOND – The good news is COVID-19 vaccination numbers continue to rise across the state. That’s one of the main points Virginia Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula made as he began his weekly press conference on Friday.

“Over the last 24 hour period, we logged the highest number of entries – 71,000 enteries that were added yesterday,” Avula said. “So still yet to be seen if that was all in one day, but a huge addition of vaccination.”

Weather delays halted some clients hoping for a Moderna vaccine last week. However, the doctor noted that districts are catching up, holding extra sessions to distribute all the vaccine.

“We’ve got a lot of vaccine on hand from the Moderna that was pushed into this week,” Avula said. “So there’s lots of opportunities – and health departments, health systems, pharmacies and other providers are all just churning it out.”

Avula expressed that the circumstances are not a one-time occurrence, due to last week’s shipment delays.

“We have also seen our allocations steadily increase in other areas as well,” Avula said. “Now, our Moderna and Pfizer first dose allocation has jumped up to about 180,000 doses for the state for next week.”

Avula noted that there will also be 130,000 second doses and 52,000 through the retail pharmacy program next week.

A matter of weeks ago, the doctor noted that the state only received about 100,000 doses per week. He called the allocation increase a nice progression.

The Rollout Continues 

But what about beyond the state programs? Virginia pharmacies beyond CVS received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“We’ve also seen the federal retail pharmacy program bring more and more vaccine in,” Avula said. “That doubled this past week from 26,000 doses that was going to CVS, to another 26,000 doses coming to eight different pharmacy chains.”

On Friday, Avula and his team still awaited confirmation and numbers for the Federally Qualified Health Center program.

“We know that there are three FQHCs that have been identified up in Northern Virginia, Neighborhood Works, the Greater Prince William Health Center and then PATHS down in the Pittsylvania County and Danville area,” Avula said. “So hoping next week we will be able to onboard those through a federal allocation and we’ll know exactly how many doses are coming in through those three networks of clinics.”

A New COVID-19 Vaccine

Pretty soon, Moderna and Pfizer might not be the only options for those seeking a COVID-19 vaccine. On Friday, a key Food and Drug Administration panel backed Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, granting an emergency use authorization.

Unlike both Moderna and Pfizer, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine only requires one dose, not two.

The unanimous 22-0 vote came from the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

“Actually, there’s great news coming a day or two out, the initial reports from the FDA showing that the efficacy and safety data looked really positive,” Avula said.

Following Friday’s vote, the next step will take place on Sunday. That’s when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will look at the same data. 

“Likely early next week, [they will] provide their report on who the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ought to be prioritized for,” Avula said. 

In the meantime, the state vaccine coordinator noted that he will make plans for the allocation and deployment of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. That could be around 69,000 doses next week.

Not Sustainable 

While Avula called the Johnson & Johnson option a “really exciting increase in vaccine for Virginia,” folks shouldn’t get comfortable with the number of potential doses. 

“Now this won’t be sustained because Johnson & Johnson has a lot of product right now, about 2 million doses that they can distribute around the state,” Avula said.

For later weeks, the company will not distribute as much vaccine. Why? They simply need time to develop the next batch. This won’t be a problem for long, as the company plans to ramp up production, Avula noted. 

“I would expect that we’ll see the 69,000 doses next week if all goes well today and then not much for weeks two and three of March, but then by week four of March, start to see that level or close to it of production again,” Avula said.

Avula also mentioned that new studies revealed the Pfizer vaccine does not require ultra cold storage. Now, experts suggest a normal freezer temperature. 

“What that means is that logistically, we’re going to be able to use Pfizer in more locations than we have historically. You know, we really have had to prioritize Pfizer for the communities that had that capacity for ultra cold storage,” Avula said. “Now, we’ll be able to use it more far and wide throughout the state. So that is exciting as well.” 

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com