RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Ralph Northam called the nearly half-a-million doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive in Commonwealth by the end of December the start of "the light at the end of this tunnel" in fighting the pandemic.
“That's enough doses to really get to our frontline healthcare workers and our long-term care facilities, both the residents and the staff," Northam said Saturday. “The light at the end of this tunnel is really the vaccination."
Virginia voted this week to adopt federal recommendations that those two groups be prioritized for vaccination.
The Department of Health estimates there are up to 500,000 health care workers and long-term care facility residents in the state and announced Friday that 480,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna could arrive by the end of December.
“We will focus initially on the groups that have been most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infections and those whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 infections," Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver wrote in an email Friday. "Over time, as more vaccine supply becomes available, more Virginians will be able to get vaccinated, and we can look forward to a time when this pandemic will end.”
The governor urged folks to continue safeguards as Virginia reported the biggest jump in COVID-19 cases in one day Saturday.
"We want to stop that trend, encourage Virginians to do the right thing," Northam said. "We just need to remain vigilant and keep our hands washed, keep our distancing and not gather in large crowds."
Health director: Vaccine 'doesn't fix things immediately'
Richmond-Henrico Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula said Virginia has seen more than 250,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
"The last two to three weeks have been a consistent increase in case counts," Avula said. "We've seen higher cases per day than we have at any point during the pandemic in Richmond and Henrico."
Avula said that while the expected approval of the vaccine is great, there is still a long road ahead.
“It doesn't fix things immediately,” Avula explained. “There's still a lot of logistical steps to get a lot of people vaccinated and a lot of people are still hesitant."
But once people are vaccinated, it will be a start in the long road to recovery.
"If we can get as many of those folks protected as possible, that will really change the course of COVID in our community," Avula said.
The Virginia Department of Health expects the first shipment of vaccines to arrive by mid-December with the remaining doses arriving by the end of the month.
"The actual amount of vaccine received in Virginia is a moving target and dependent on when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured," an email from the state read.
"I'm optimistic and hopeful that we'll get more of a supply in the early months of 2021 and by hopefully to early, mid-summer we'll be able to vaccinate all Virginians and finally be able to put this pandemic behind us," Northam said.
Virginia reports highest daily increase in virus cases Saturday
The news of the nearly half-a-million doses came before Virginia reported the biggest increase in COVID-19 cases in one day during the pandemic.
The state reported 3,793 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, but health department officials noted some of those cases were due to a backlog of data entering the system.
The previous record for new cases in Virginia was set on Nov. 23, when there were 3,242 cases.
Virginia has reported a total 251,173 virus cases, with 220,510 of those cases confirmed and 30,663 determined to be probable.
The state's seven-day positivity rate is 10%.