RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced Friday that it will receive fewer doses of COVID-19 vaccines than anticipated by the end of the year.
VDH said it is now planning to receive 370,650 doses of vaccine from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, down from the previous estimation of 480,000. A spokesperson said the drop was a combination of both manufacturers.
Officials said they were informed late Thursday by Operation Warp Speed of the change.
“We heard last night that Pfizer was having to cut back on what they were going to ship to many, in fact, all of the states. And so there's been a cut in the number of doses of the Pfizer vaccine that we're going to receive,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver. “This is not unusual, they have ups and downs in supply chain like that. We will still be receiving hundreds of thousands of doses of the vaccine.”
Oliver said he was not aware of the cause of the change, but added when they receive shipments they will “do everything we can to ensure that it gets fairly and equitably distributed to residents of the Commonwealth”.
A statement released by Pfizer Thursday night denied any issues on their end with the production or distribution of its vaccine.
“Pfizer is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed. This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses,” said a portion of the statement.
CNN reported that a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said reports of states having their vaccine allocations reduced “are incorrect."
They said states would receive the same amount, but deliveries may be spread out over a longer period of time.
"As was done with the initial shipments of Pfizer vaccine, jurisdictions will receive vaccine at different sites over several days. This eases the burden on the jurisdictions and spreads the workload across multiple days. This same process was successfully used for the initial distribution of Pfizer's vaccine, and we are simply applying lessons learned," the spokesperson added to CNN.
Oliver said the dose reduction will add a few weeks to Virginia's plan to vaccinate the first group of recipients, roughly 500,000 healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents.
"We basically thought we would be able to finish it all by the end of the month," added Oliver. "It extends it a couple of weeks. It'll be in sometime in January when we vaccinate all of that population."
Vaccination efforts began this week in Virginia as healthcare workers who deal directly with COVID-19 cases were the first ones to have access. 18 healthcare systems around the Commonwealth received a share of over 72,000 doses.
VDH said next week's shipment from Pfizer has been decreased from 89,700 to 50,700. However, Oliver said that Virginia has an order of 146,4000 doses from Moderna expected to arrive next week as well -- pending federal emergency use authorization which could happen in the coming days.
"We plan on distributing it to 96 health care systems and local health departments next week. They will be then spreading out and reaching out to even more health care workers not only in the health care systems, but community based health care workers as well," said Oliver, who added the Moderna vaccine can be more widely shipped because it does not require ultra-cold storage like the Pfizer vaccine.
He added that vaccination at long-term care facilities is expected to begin the week of December 28 by vaccination teams from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies through an agreement with the federal government.
"Over the next four weeks start starting at that date, they will vaccinate all those residents. In the first couple of weeks they plan on getting 50% of that population vaccinated and then 25% and 25%," said Oliver. "In the course of four weeks, the plan is for CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate all the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities."
As for preparing for the next group of vaccination recipients, Dr. Oliver said they are still waiting for guidance from the federal government, but have started the planning process and looking at what essential workers would be first.
"Trying to think through the priorities on that population. We have limited supply of vaccine so we will not be able to vaccinate all essential workers at the same time. So we do have to develop a priority list," said Oliver. "We will present that list to our vaccine advisory work group to ensure that it's a fair and equitable distribution and then proceed to administer it in that way."
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Friday the group will likely include first responders, food processors, and teachers.
Oliver added that next week, VDH is expected to launch a new dashboard that will show Virginia's progress on its vaccination efforts.