RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam promised to speed up the Commonwealth’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine at a news conference Tuesday. He also called on those currently receiving distributions to not hold on to the doses and administer them as quickly and safely as possible or they will get fewer doses in the future.
“Now that we have a baseline, we can ramp it up,” said Northam. “We can be faster and we’re going to be faster.”
According to the Virginia Health Department’s vaccine dashboard of the 481,550 doses that have been distributed around Virginia, only 116,247 doses have been administered or about 24%.
Officials said there is a delay in the administration numbers being reported to the “central data portal” and there are between 35,000-to-55,000 doses that have been administered but not entered into the database. Northam said he hoped the technical glitches will be resolved in the coming days.
On the subject of using up the doses Virginia is currently receiving, Northam called on places like healthcare systems, pharmacies, and clinics to administer them quickly, safely, and in the line with the Phase 1A guidance.
“You use it or you lose it. So, I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms. When you have vials, give out shots until they're gone. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused. The companies are manufacturing more. They're working around the clock, and you're going to get more. So, don't save anything,” said Northam. “If you're not using what you receive, you must be getting too much. So in the next shipment, we're going to allocate more doses to other places that need them.”
Officials said with the weekly shipment of 110,000 doses of the vaccine, 14,000 Virginians should be getting vaccinated per day. They added right now the figure is closer to 9,000 per day.
Northam said as production increases the state wants to get to 25,000 per day and then 50,000 per day. Northam said if they achieve that highest daily rate, they should be able to offer the vaccine to all Virginians by the summertime.
Currently, Virginia is still working to vaccinate the roughly 500,000 people in Phase 1A, made up of healthcare workers and long-term care (LTC) facility residents and staff.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said they hope to finish up that phase by the end of January and move on to the vaccination of the 1B group, but some areas of the state could start sooner than others or overlap groups depending on the numbers of people in their respective areas.
Officials also unveiled who is in Phase 1B and 1C and the hierarchy in each (similar to how healthcare workers dealing directly with COVID-19 cases were at the front of the line for Phase 1A ahead of LTC residents). Northam said Phase 1B is made up of essential workers who are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and cannot work remotely.
"These are firefighters. These are police officers and hazmat workers. These are grocery store workers and people who work in plants processing the food that everyone eats," said Northam. "This group includes bus drivers and transit workers. The people who run the systems that help other people get to work. So, if you rely on the metro or the bus to get to work and there's no one to drive it, then you're out of luck and your family suffers. That's why these workers are so high on the list of essential workers and includes folks in food and agriculture, corrections, and mail carriers."
Northam said the largest group in Phase 1B is teachers and childcare workers, making up about 285,000 people.
Northam also announced at the news conference that he had picked Richmond and Henrico Health Department Director Dr. Danny Avula to lead Virginia's vaccination program going forward.
"My hope in this short term assignment is to come alongside Commissioner Oliver and the amazing team that is driving this work at VDH to help build some more of those bridges between the work that's happening locally and the work that's happening centrally and really get after vaccinating Virginia," said Avula.