By Taylor Boyd
Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia will follow guidance from United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to immediately expand COVID-19 vaccinations. Those 65 and older and those under 64 who have comorbid conditions are moved to the Tier 1B group.
“This means that about half of Virginians are now eligible to receive the vaccine. That’s a major logistical effort, and it is not going to happen overnight. Everyone will need to be patient. It will happen as fast as it can be done,” he said, adding that all localities in Virginia should be at Tier 1B by the end of the month.
To help states rapidly expand channels for vaccines, Northam noted the HHS “said $3 billion in additional funding is on the way to help states make all of this happen.” Even without the addition funding, he said the Commonwealth is moving faster every day.
“On Monday, we vaccinated more than 15,000 people, Tuesday it was more than 17,000. Last Thursday and Friday we topped more than 17,000 doses each day,” he said. “Only a handful of states have given more doses than Virginia, and they’re bigger than we are. States like California, Texas, and Florida. In fact, as of right now, Virginia has distributed 100 percent of the doses we’ve received to 160 vaccination sites across our Commonwealth.”
Northam said he recently spoke with all local health directors and the leaders of Virginia’s hospitals. “My message to them was simple. Thank you and Virginia needs everyone to move faster.”
Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccine coordinator, said the state recognizes it needs to do more to fit the goal of 50,000 doses a day. Hitting that goal is “what we need to do if we’re going to get herd immunity in the Commonwealth. We do really need to get to an infrastructure that can handle 50,000 doses a day,” he said.
Avula said part of that may be incorporating fixed-site mass vaccination centers across the state.
“Places that will be 6-to-7-day-a-week operations that will initially be planned and partnered with health departments, medical reserve core, with health systems,” he said, adding that the goal is to eventually staff those centers with the National Guard and contracted vaccinators that will be able to provide this service in large-scale.
“We are quickly getting to scale, but we need to get to the staffing model that allows that consistent delivery of vaccines day-in and day-out and gets us to our 50,000 doses a day,” Avula said. He added that as early as later this week, there would be some movement in the mass vaccination arena and more vaccines available through various channels.
Avula said the administration is currently in the planning stages of determining where the fixed-site mass vaccination centers will be.
“The vaccines are really our way out of this pandemic– the vaccines and continuing to follow the guidelines on masks, distancing, and handwashing,” Northam said, and encouraged every Virginian to get vaccinated when their turn comes.
“Vaccines are how we get back to a new normal. This is how we reopen our schools and rebuild our economy. It is the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. While it is a massive undertaking and will take some months to get to everyone, I promise your turn is coming- and soon,” he said.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has also partnered with Walgreens to provide Abbott BinaxNow rapid antigen testing. The VDH said it “encourages the use of these tests for individuals who are symptomatic, those who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, those at high risk of illness or complications and essential employees such as educators, childcare providers, and healthcare providers.”
Walgreens pharmacy teams will oversee the patient’s self-administration of a COVID-19 test, and results will be processed at the pharmacy and provided to patients within 24 hours.
Local Walgreens included in this partnership include those at 140 South Main Street in Stuart, and 3590 Virginia Ave in Collinsville
The data also suggests there are 451,076 cases in the state, with 20,066 hospitalized, and 5,798 dead from the COVID-19 virus. Information from the CDC suggested there are 23,653,919 cases in the United States and 394,495 dead from coronavirus.
Data also suggests that as of Jan. 19, 36,826 Virginians have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
For more tips on how to stay safe, visit http://www.vdh.virginia.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.