RICHMOND, Va. -- Responding to criticism surrounding the rough rollout of Virginia's COVID-19 vaccine program, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said a few things were happening, both in the short-term and long-term, to increase Virginia's weekly vaccine shipments.
Virginia was set to receive around 105,000 doses of vaccine a week. But Northam said the Biden administration said they could provide a 16-percent increase starting on Thursday.
Also, Northam said he directed hospital systems to release second doses of the vaccine that may not be used for several weeks and redistribute them as first doses.
That would lead to an additional 40,000 doses this week.
But even with the increase, supply remains limited. That is one reason why the state health department has issued new guidance to local health districts on how they should share the doses.
"Half of the available doses should go for people aged 65 and older," Northam said. "The other half should be used for other essential workers and people who are at increased risk of severe illness."
Northam said State Health Commissioner had also sent a letter to vaccinators informing them they need to record a vaccine recipients race and ethnicity.
According to VDH's vaccine dashboard, as of Wednesday that data point was missing for over 308,000 doses, more than half of those administered.
"It's really important to make sure that equity is built into the vaccination program and that you can see what's going on," said Northam.
On the issue of struggling to sign-up for a vaccine at the local level, Northam said the state was working on a centralized system.
He did not say when it would be running.
When asked why it wasn't ready when the state knew the move into 1B was coming, he said it was a matter of bad timing.
"The design we had in place. We had not intended to expand how many people were getting doses until February," Northam said. "So, this isn't something that we just started to work on today. We've been working on it and we're very close to having it. To date, what we've been doing is people have been registering and calling through the local health departments and we realize that needs to be improved."
Governor Northam also announced that the current COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place until the end of February.
Those restrictions include things such as a ban on gatherings of greater than 10, the 10 p.m. alcohol sale cut-off, and the overnight modified stay-at-home order.