WASHINGTON (WRIC) — After making adjustments to COVID-19 vaccine administration practices throughout the commonwealth, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam says the state is averaging 40,000 immunizations per day.
During a Thursday morning live-streamed discussion hosted by The Washington Post, Northam provided an update on the state’s progress in rolling out the vaccine. When compared to how many COVID-19 vaccines have been administered by other states, Northam says Virginia is now in the top 10, based on a percentage of the population.
However, CDC data shows that Virginia ranks 11th out of all U.S. states, not including Washington, D.C., in terms of how many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered per 100,000 people.
“I was not satisfied with the pace that we were getting shots into arms, and so about four weeks ago, we made some significant adjustments,” Northam said. “We’re headed in a much better direction.”
The governor says Virginia started planning for its COVID-19 vaccine rollout in September 2020. When vaccine manufacturers received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states across the country began inoculating those individuals deemed to be in Phase 1a.
“That worked well, and then what happened is that eligibility was expanded, and that came from Washington and the previous administration,” Northam said. “Remember, they said that the stockpile would be released? And then two days later, after we announced that we’re expanding eligibility, taking the age down to 65, individuals with pre-existing conditions, vaccinating our teachers, frontline workers, that stockpile was pulled away from us.”
Northam says the state’s main problem is not getting enough doses from the federal government. Currently, Virginia is receiving about 120,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week. But in order to reach the goal of 50,000 daily doses, the state would need 350,000 per week.
If Virginia is able to achieve the goal of vaccinating 50,000 residents daily, Northam says the state could see herd immunity by early to mid-summer.
“We didn’t know how many doses we would have in Virginia, and so the pharmacies and the healthcare systems were keeping that second dose,” he said. “Now that we’ve got a commitment to have more shipment coming in each week, we can take those second doses and convert them into first doses, and that’s why we’ve been able to reduce our backlog significantly.”
Northam says Virginia is also expanding its vaccination capability by opening up several CVS Pharmacy sites where residents can be immunized.
“I think all of us are ready to put this pandemic behind us and get back to our near-normal lives,” he said.
Although President Joe Biden and his administration have only been in office for two weeks, Northam says the outlook is positive. On Tuesday, the administration announced that it is moving to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up more doses for states, and beginning to distribute them to retail pharmacies next week.
“We were asked to fight a biological war with really no supplies and no direction,” Northam said. “The difference is leadership, being factual, following the science.”
Even as the state and the country ramp up vaccination efforts, the governor says he would like to see Virginia’s coronavirus positivity rate come down below at least 5 percent before things can return to a “near-normal.”
Until then, he urges residents to continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands, especially as mutations of coronavirus are reported in the state.
“There’s the U.K. variant, which we now have four cases that are documented in Virginia, there’s the South African variant and also a Brazilian variant, and so these viruses, they’re known to mutate,” Northam said. “That’s the way they survive and exist, and the sooner we can get individuals vaccinated, the sooner we can get these numbers in our communities lower, the better off we’re going to be as a nation.”