RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Every state across the country is working to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of having enough vaccine supply for every adult by May 1. Virginia’s vaccine czar told 8News Monday the commonwealth is expected to beat that goal; having enough supply for adults one week early.
State Vaccine Program Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said Virginia expect 500,000 vaccine doses this week, most of which will be first and second doses of Moderna and Pfizer. Around 127,000 of Virginia’s available doses are being distributed through a federal, and retail pharmacy partnership.
Avula said there will be around 9,600 doses of Johnson & Johnson available this week, but that allocation is expected to drastically increase to 100,000 by Tuesday of next week.
The cause for big jump in the single-dose vaccines is due to new federal production guidelines for Johnson & Johnson, Avula said.
Even if enough vaccines are procured by May 1, Avula said it will take the entire month to administer those shots to those who want them.
With the steady supply of vaccines, some counties have started transitioning to Phase 1c of the vaccination plan. Avula says smaller more rural areas are transitioning faster.
When looking at larger and more populous areas like Central Virginia, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, Avula says, “I think we are probably a couple weeks out from a transition from 1b to 1c.”
“It could happen earlier because when we go from 1b to 1c it doesn’t mean we stop vaccinating 1b individuals,” he said, “…it just means that we open up the pipeline a little bit to make sure that we can still use all of the vaccination capacity that is built up.”
Even though the next vaccination phase is projected to launch in several weeks for most Virginians, Avula said the state is ahead of Mr. Biden’s supply goal.
“I think that we will be able to easily meet the president’s goal of getting to the general population by May 1″ Avula said. “I think that we will probably be there about a week ahead of that schedule.”
Around that same time, the vaccine coordinator suspects Virginia could have a fourth vaccine available, if AstraZeneca is granted emergency use authorization from the FDA. Avula said the initial efficacy data for AstraZeneca vaccines — around 79% effective at curbing symptomatic illness — are encouraging and shots could be available in the U.S. as early as late April or early May.
With lots of talk surrounding vaccines and herd immunity, many are wondering when life will return to normal. Avula tells 8News that the CDC guidance notice fully vaccinated people can gather with each other is encouraging.
“I think, both, more data that supports the fact that you can’t really be a carrier or transmit disease, hopefully that’s what the data will continue to show, paired with decreasing case rates, I think that’s what we need to give us the confidence to move forward with opening up more,” he said.
Things that could stand in the way of a full re-opening are the continued emergence of different variants. Avula said today’s vaccines have proved effective against the U.K. variant, while other variants such as the South African variant have not fully emerged yet.
Virginians, vaccinated or not, are still required to wear masks to protect others as well as themselves. Some have even started wearing two masks, which Avula says creates a better fit and provides a thicker barrier against respiratory droplets.
But, the vaccine czar said that hopefully in the “not so distant future” Virginians will be able to return to life without masks.
One thing that might secure a return to normal is another shot of vaccines for everyone.
“It may take another round of booster vaccination in the fall or winter before we can totally do away with the mask wearing and social distancing,” Avula said.
Moderna is already working on producing booster shots and other companies are working to factor in protection against the COVID-19 variants from South Africa, the U.K. and Brazil.
Avula predicts that it’s possible COVID-19 vaccines could become an annual thing just like flu shots. He says, “we have a new formulation of the flu vaccine every year based on those circulating strains, I think it’s very likely that we will have an annual of the situation of the COVID vaccine where we’ve got a new formulation based on the dominant circulating strains each year.”
But for now, the state has to continue working on reaching everyone for their first round of shots. Avula expressed concern that accessing some state residents such as undocumented individuals may prove difficult.
In order to reach the goal of vaccinating 75% of Virginia’s population — the threshold for targeted herd immunity — Avula said the state will have to push to reach that last 10% of people.
“Whether, it’s because of frank hesitancy because of a concern or unwillingness to get vaccinated, but which we need to continue to rely on relationships that primary care providers have with patients, the trust that they have with nurses and other providers,” Avula said. “So, I think there’s another proponent of education and of working through that relationship to get people to get off the fence.”