Health officials predict a 2-3 month wait for Phase 1b completion, COVID-19 vaccine demand outweighing supply


RICHMOND, Va (WRIC)– Virginia health officials are working to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine while managing high demand. The state received 300,000 requests in one week but only around a third of that supply is available.

So far over a million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed into Virginia, with more than 424,000 of those doses actually being administered. Each week the state receives 105,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Danny Avula, the State Vaccine Coordinator, said his team has switched gears this week to come up with a potential solution.

“This week we moved to a geographically population based driven distribution so in each community we know what percentage of the state population they have, and then they’re assigned that percentage of this week’s allotment,” Dr. Avula said.

For example, based on Chesterfield, Virginia’s percent population, the county is receiving 4,700 doses a week, according to Avula.

Virginia is currently in Phase 1a and 1b, with most localities in Phase 1b. All of Virginia will be in Phase 1b by Monday, Jan. 25. The guidance for vaccine rollout was adapted from recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials are working through each Phase 1b tier group starting with police, fire and hazmat while simultaneously allotting vaccine for people 65 and older. Healthcare systems and local health departments are also working to vaccinate healthcare personnel.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, many are vaccinating non-health system staff also. Local health departments are compiling lists of healthcare providers who are not affiliated with a hospital or health system and are reaching out to those groups.

Currently, the vaccine availability is higher for those that fall under Phase 1a in comparison to those that fall under Phase 1b. Under Phase 1b, people aged 65 years and older, people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and people ages 16 through 64-years-old with a high risk medical condition or disability that increases their risk of severe illness from COVID-19, are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Phase 1b also includes frontline essential workers such as police, fire, grocery store workers, mail carriers and teachers.

But with the current supply, Dr. Avula predicts it will take two to three months for all of phase 1b to be vaccinated.

“We have this very large 1b group and I think the challenge of this is when you’re only getting a couple thousand new doses a week to be distributed between hospitals, health systems, health departments providers and pharmacies,” he said. “How do you do that in a way that even comes close to meeting demand? The answer is you don’t. You can’t.”

A significant amount of vaccine is being reserved for a federal program to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff.

In the state, CVS and Walgreens teams are working to vaccinate long-term care facilities and staff through the Federal LTCF Pharmacy Partnership Program. The pharmacies were contracted by the federal government to administer 226,000 vaccinations in Virginia. Thousands of the distributed doses have yet to be administered to long-term care facilities, according to Dr. Danny Avula.

The Virginia Department of Health recorded 47,000 long-term care facility residents and staff have been vaccinated under this program, while the facilities recorded 66,000 vaccinations. Avula told 8news, the data does not match and his team is working to fill in the gap.

“Their goal is to get through all of the nursing homes and assisted living facilities on their list by the end of January and it looks like we are going to be very close to that target,” said Avula.

Avula’s team is brainstorming ways on how to re-allocate the supply.

According to VDH, information will be coming out from employers, healthcare providers an local health departments about how and when you can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. There’s a tool on the VDH’s website where you can find out when you are eligible to be vaccinated.

On the current COVID-19 vaccine timeline provided by the Virginia Department of Health, Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines are expected to reach large scale distribution by Spring 2021.

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