RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia health officials joined one of the nation’s top disease experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for a virtual panel discussing COVID-19 and the vaccination efforts.
The panel was co-hosted by the Governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the VCU Massey Cancer Center, and the group “Faith and Facts Fridays.” The latter group has been meeting since March 2020 to bring together members of the medical community and the African-American faith community to
“To build and cultivate a bridge of trust between the medical community and the Black faith community. This is especially important given our justified skepticism based on our collective history,” said Rudene Mercer Haynes, one of the group’s co-founders. “Recognizing the disparate impact of COVID-19 on people of color, and in particular Black and Latinx communities, [VCU Massey Cancer Center Director] Dr. [Robert] Winn, [Fifth Street Baptist Church Reverend] Pastor [F. Todd] Gray and I consider it absolutely imperative to disseminate credible, facts-based, and medically sound information regarding this deadly virus to our Black faith leaders and their congregations.”
Fauci, who serves as the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the panel it was particularly important for Black and Brown communities to get the vaccine because of the disproportionate impact the virus has had on them.
“There’s what I call the binary nature of COVID-19 health disparities along racial and ethnic lines. There’s an increased incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in minority populations and there’s a predisposition to severe disease once you get infected,” said Fauci, who added in general Black and Brown communities have occupations that place them out in the community and at a higher risk of exposure. He said those communities also have an increased prevalence of co-morbidities associated with severe COVID-19 cases. “So, it’s really what I would refer to the common colloquial language of a double whammy against Black and Brown people.”
Fauci also spoke to the historic distrust between communities of color and the medical community and federal government, calling it a “shameful past”, but said there are safeguards in place to not let it happen again and spoke to concerns about the speed at which the vaccines were developed.
“That speed was related to extraordinarily breathtaking scientific advances in vaccine platform technologies that allowed us to do in months what normally would have taken years,” said Fauci. “The decision as to whether or not this is a safe and effective vaccine was made by an independent body that is beholden, not to the government, not to the company, but to the American public. It's called the Data and Safety Monitoring Board.”
In response to a question on the subject, Fauci encouraged Black church leaders to tell their congregations that the vaccine is safe.
Fauci also spoke about the vaccine rollout in general and said in the coming weeks we could hear news about more vaccines getting approved.
“We hope by the time we get to April, we’ll be able to have what we call ‘open season’. Namely, anybody, even if you’re not in the priority group, can wind up getting vaccinated,” said Fauci. “Hopefully, even sooner than that.”
State Leaders Speak to Next Phases
Several state health officials also took part in Friday’s discussion and talked about the specifics of the rollout in Virginia.
As of Saturday, 167,452 doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine had been administered, with 11,023 people having received both doses.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam reiterated his administration’s goal of vaccinating 14,000 people per day, which said was the maximum under their current weekly shipments of the vaccine (around 110,000 per week), and eventually increasing that to 50,000 per day.
“It's going to take several months and that will get us into the summer months,” said Northam
Currently, Virginia is still working its way through Phase 1A of its vaccine program and offering the vaccine to roughly 500,000 healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents.
But, this week, officials released who will be included in Phases 1B and 1C. Because of limited vaccines, much like Phase 1A, the phases are broken down into subgroups and list which groups should be given priority access to the vaccine. Phase 1B includes people over the age of 75 and frontline essential workers. Officials also announced on Friday, following the panel, that 11 health districts would begin Phase 1B vaccinations.
And State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver also told the panel that as Virginia moves into the later phases of the vaccine program, places of worship could help in the efforts.
“I think that our local health departments would be eager to work with faith leaders in the local jurisdictions around the Commonwealth to have those sites be places where we can carry out vaccination at the time when we're ready to roll that out to the general public,” said Oliver. “Or, maybe even before when we're doing broader populations, say the elderly, who are members of your congregations.”
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.