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Governor announces increase in vaccination supply, transparency

Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine supply will increase by 16%, which Gov. Ralph Northam said would allow local health districts to better plan vaccination events, while saying the state would be more transparent in how the vaccine is distributed and administered.

State and local health officials have come under sharp criticism for the slow pace of the vaccinations and a lack of information about the vaccination process.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people asking me the same question,” Northam said. “‘Where can I get a shot? And how do I sign up? How do I sign up my elderly patients?’ These are questions we expected to address in February, but like every state, we expanded eligibility much more quickly than we originally planned. That has led to confusion about where to sign up, and when. That confusion is justified, because the answer has not been clear, but we’re going to have this fixed very soon.”

The state learned Jan. 26 that it would be getting the extra doses after President Joe Biden announced it was buying 200 million more doses of vaccine — 100 million of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and another 100 million of the Moderna vaccine. Northam said the increase in doses would begin with the order the state places Jan. 28. Biden pledged that the United States would have enough COVID-19 vaccines for 300 million people by the end of the summer.

Virginia’s increased allotment, up from 105,000 to about 130,000 doses per week, will allow the state to plan vaccine distribution a month in advance, rather than week-to-week, Northam said, but it will still need about 220,000 more doses per week to reach the goal of having 50,000 people in Virginia vaccinated per day and allowing the state to reach herd immunity by December. According to the state dashboard, it is averaging 26,010 vaccine doses per day going into arms.

Northam announced that hospitals have been able to shift their inventory to vaccinate 40,000 more people this week, on top of the 175,000 that had been planned. He said he empathized with those having difficulty in accessing information about the vaccine and getting one.

“Everyone is out of patience, and I understand,” Northam said during his Jan. 27 COVID-19 briefing. “It will take time to reach everyone, but we’re reaching more people every day, and the pace is increasing.”

Northam placed blame on former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who directed states to make those 65 and up eligible for the vaccine to get an allocation increase. Two days after the state agreed to do that, the federal government announced there were no more vaccine doses to provide.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there have been more than 24.6 million doses administered out of more than 47.2 million distributed, with 3.8 million having received two doses as of 6 a.m. Jan. 27. Of the total administered, 13.55 million have been the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and just over 11 million being the Moderna vaccine, with just under 100,000 of the administered vaccines not identified.

In Virginia, the CDC says about 1.2 million vaccines have been distributed, representing 13,819 per 100,000 people, while just over 629,000 vaccines have been administered, or 7,369 per 100,000 people. More than 524,000 have received one or more doses, while more than 79,000  have received two doses.

In Suffolk, there have been 3,856 vaccine doses administered, with 502 people fully vaccinated. Franklin and Southampton County have had a near equal amount of vaccine doses administered and people receiving both doses, combining for 996 doses administered and 41 people fully vaccinated.

The federal pharmacy partnership with CVS and Walgreens has led to more than 2.9 million doses being administered in long-term care facilities. Officials from those pharmacies said during the briefing that they are committed to helping the state reach its vaccination goals by providing it to assisted living and long-term care facilities.

Northam said the number of people vaccinated with at least one dose, on a population basis, has been comparable to neighboring states Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee, along with the District of Columbia, but well behind West Virginia, one of the U.S. leaders in administering the vaccine.

State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said the wide gap between doses administered and doses distributed was due to providers withholding the second dose. Northam said that with the assurance of more vaccine doses from the federal government, providers do not have to hold back providing doses anymore.

Many in Western Tidewater and elsewhere around the state have reported issues in finding information about the vaccination process.

Northam said the Virginia Department of Health will be issuing “clear guidance” to local health districts about how to allocate their supply of available doses.

The governor called for about 50% of Phase 1B vaccinations to go to people who are at least 65 years old, with the other half going to frontline essential workers in priority order, those aged 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions or who have a disability, and those in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps.

Northam said the Virginia Department of Health will set up a single, statewide vaccination registration platform that will connect to a phone number and website. He said the state would also hire more people to staff the phones.

“I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians,” Northam said.

Regional hospitals also said they are responding to the call for transparency.

Riverside Health System announced that it has distributed 93% of its allotted vaccine doses and expected to use all of its remaining supply on its 65-and-up patients by the end of the week. It is posting weekly updates through its digital vaccine tracker on its website, riversideonline.com, which will include the number of doses it has ordered, the number received, the number of first doses administered and the number of vaccination appointments it has scheduled.

Riverside also has started weekly COVID-19 video updates from its president and chief operating officer, Dr. Mike Dacey.

Sentara Healthcare noted that it would have a more limited vaccine supply due to the state’s shift from providing the vaccine directly to health systems to having local health departments distribute them based on their community’s population. It said it remains committed to continuing vaccinations for employees and community healthcare workers in Phase 1A, along with eligible Sentara Medical Group patients and members of the community in Phase 1B as its supply allows.

Sentara noted its community clinics are vaccinating a limited number of Phase 1B people aged 75 and up, and would contact those who are eligible to schedule an appointment. Sentara said it would also support the state health department and health districts in operating community vaccination clinics, emphasizing those in underserved communities and vulnerable populations in each phase eligible for the vaccine.

As of Jan. 27, Sentara has administered 31,601 vaccines, with 48% of Sentara employees receiving the vaccine, up 15% in the last two weeks.

Northam also announced he would extend his executive order that included a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew, an expanded mask mandate and a reduced capacity limit for social gatherings — set to expire this week — at least through the end of February.