First COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Virginia: 'A glimpse of the light at the end of this really long tunnel'

Posted at 3:02 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 18:23:46-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer arrived in Virginia on Monday.

Both Bon Secours, which serves the Richmond-area, and Sentara Healthcare, which services Williamsburg and Hampton Roads, released pictures and videos of its facilities receiving a shipment of the vaccine.

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Sentara receives its initial shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said 18 healthcare systems, three on Monday and 15 on Tuesday, around the Commonwealth will received shipments. Those systems are ones that have the ultra-cold-storage equipment necessary to handle the vaccine as it needs to be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

In total, the Commonwealth is supposed to get over 72,000 doses in this first shipment.

Health care workers who deal directly with COVID-19 patients will be the first to receive the vaccine.

After that, others in the healthcare field and people in long-term care facilities will be in that first group to be vaccinated. In total, VDH estimates are 500,000 in those two groups.

The majority of vaccination efforts in the long-term care facilities will be handled by teams from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies through a partnership with the federal government.

"They will come on site to the nursing facilities and assisted living facilities to administer the vaccine...and they'll go around the room if they need to," said Keith Hare, CEO of Virginia Health Care Association/Virginia Center for Assisted Living."Because, particularly in nursing homes, the patients are what's called "non-ambulatory", meaning that they don't traditionally have the ability to get up and move around the facility on their own and they need a significant amount of assistance because of their health care needs."

Hare said the vaccination teams will visit each location three times.

"The first time they come they'll inoculate every single worker and every single resident patient while they're there. When they come back the second time, if anybody who was not there or if there's a new resident or caregiver that did not receive the first dosage, then they will receive that first round of the vaccination then," said Hare. "And then, when they come back the third time, they will provide the second dose to those individuals that received their first dose."

"While public health and healthcare partners -- we're thrilled at this next phase of the response, we all know it's time to get our hands dirty and really get a big job done," Dr. Laurie Forlano, VDH’s Deputy Commissioner for Population Health, said. "So it's just a lot of excitement. And a little bit of a sigh of relief. It's nice to see a glimpse of the light at the end of this really long tunnel."

Of the nearly 3 million doses in this initial U.S. shipment from Pfizer, Operation Warp Speed is sending more than 72,000 doses to Virginia.

Dr. Forlano said the state was anticipating around 480,000 doses by the end of the year and hope for vaccination of the general population to occur in the spring and summer.

She added even when people get vaccinated, they should still follow social distancing guidelines like mask-wearing, handing washing.

"Particularly important right now when the surge of cases is fairly significant in all regions of Virginia," she said. "So those prevention strategies still remain in play until we learn more about the effectiveness of the vaccine and how it impacts transmission."