RICHMOND, Va. -- At least two Virginia health systems on Monday received initial doses of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine, which will be administered to their workers.
Gov. Ralph Northam visited a Bon Secours hospital in Richmond that he said had received one of the state's first shipments of the vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech. Norfolk-based Sentara Healthcare also announced it had received 11,700 doses that arrived early Monday morning by FedEx.
“These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” Northam said in a statement. “With this remarkable medical achievement, we are beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.”
While Monday marked the kickoff of what’s expected to be the nation’s biggest-ever vaccination push, supplies will be limited for months to come. Although the U.S. hopes for enough of both vaccines together to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the month, there won’t be enough for the average person to get a shot until spring.
The Virginia Department of Health announced earlier this month that Virginia's first allocation was expected to include 72,150 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration late Friday.
Officials previously said those initial doses will be distributed to health care systems with capacity for the ultracold storage the vaccine requires and will be administered to health care workers. Health care personnel that directly care for COVID-19 patients were to receive top priority.
Neither state officials nor the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association disclosed exactly when each health system would receive its shipment. Julian Walker, a spokesman for the VHHA, said some were expecting shipments Tuesday or Wednesday.
Sentara officials said they were working Monday to distribute the doses across its system and expected to begin offering employee vaccinations Wednesday.
“We are super excited. This is a significant opportunity,” Mary Morin, Sentara’s vice president of clinical effectiveness, said on a call with reporters.
Getting the shot will be voluntary for Sentara’s workers, though Morin said the majority of employees who responded to an interest survey indicated they wished to receive it.
Sentara said its initial priority group would include emergency department staff, ICUs, COVID patient units, respiratory unit staff and other staff who provide services in those areas, such as food service workers.
Subsequent weekly shipments are expected to begin after this week's initial shipment and will be divided among health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, the health department has said.
Later this week, the FDA will decide whether to green-light the world’s second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna Inc.
If that vaccine also secures approval, the health department has said Virginia would be expected to receive enough doses by the year’s end to begin inoculating nearly all of its health care workers and long-term care facility residents.
Monday’s shipments came as the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 300,000. Over 4,400 deaths have been recorded in Virginia, according to the health department.
Also Monday, the state's newest restrictions to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus took effect. Last week, Northam announced the new rules, which include a stricter mask mandate, a 10-person limit on gatherings and a curfew that requires most Virginians to stay at home between midnight and 5 a.m.