RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In his first press briefing since Thanksgiving, Gov. Ralph Northam did not announce any new business restrictions but instead outlined the state’s plan for distributing initial shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Northam’s Administration has some tough decisions ahead on who should get the very first doses as production increases to meet demand.
On Tuesday, a federal committee made up of medical and public health experts came out with recommendations on how states should prioritize initial shipments while supplies are scarce. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) said healthcare workers and long-term care residents should go first, though the precise order will be up to each state.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake estimated about 500,000 Virginians meet the criteria for the first phase of vaccinations. Meanwhile, the state is expecting to get just over 70,000 doses in its first shipment from Pfizer, which could come as early as mid December if the FDA approves.
“The companies are manufacturing these doses now as we speak, even before final approval, so that distribution can move quickly once that approval comes,” Gov. Northam said. “When our turn comes, my family and I will have no hesitancy about getting vaccinated and I strongly encourage every Virginian to get the vaccine. That is our only path to getting back to that near normal.”
Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said the first 70,000 doses will be distributed to 70,000 people, who will still require a subsequent vaccination a few weeks later to be protected against the coronavirus.
Dr. Peake said a state committee is still finalizing how to rank subgroups of healthcare workers and long-term care residents. She said more information will be available when the state submits detailed plans to the federal government on Friday.
“It’s a hopeful and exciting set of problems to solve together,” Dr. Carey told 8News after Wednesday’s press conference. “It means it’s the beginning of the end of this pandemic.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has said he expects $40 million doses to be shipped out nationwide by the end of this year. That’s enough to fully vaccinate 20 million people since both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s immunizations require two doses per person.
Based on adult population size, Virginia is expected to get about 2.6 percent of those doses or more than 1 million before 2020 comes to a close.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) is pushing for Northam’s Administration to put the residents they represent at the front of the pack. In Virginia, long-term care facilities have accounted for 1,997 fatalities, making up 49 percent of the state’s total death toll.
“The long term care industry, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, now call on governors from all 50 states to ensure long term care residents and staff are the first group to receive the vaccine within this initial Phase ‘1a’ distribution to save as many lives as possible,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, in a statement.
The debate comes as staff shortages from coronavirus exposure are straining hospital resources in the state’s Southwest region, according to Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association Communications Vice President Julian Walker. The issue is part of what prompted Balled Health, the only hospital system serving much of the region, to suspend elective surgeries for at least 30 days starting on Monday.
Generally, Walker said the VHHA has recommended that frontline hospitals workers most directly involved with the care of COVID-19 patients should be immunized first.
As Northam’s Administration prepares for its mass vaccination campaign, they’re also tracking rising coronavirus cases in every region of the commonwealth following Thanksgiving. Despite this, Northam did not announce new restrictions on Wednesday. He said he needs more time to evaluate the impact of the additional measures put in place before the holiday.
“We just put these measures in place two weeks ago and it takes two to three weeks of data to see what’s working and what isn’t,” Northam said. “We also are watching for signs of a post Thanksgiving surge. I continue to closely monitor the numbers and we’ll evaluate whether further mitigation steps are necessary.”
Northam urged Virginians to remain vigilant as the state enters a more hopeful phase of the pandemic. He estimates all Virginians will have the opportunity to be immunized by the summer of 2021.
“Especially now, with these vaccines just around the corner so that we can start to think about an end to this pandemic, it’s foolish to take risks. Be more careful than you think you need to be, especially with the holidays coming up.”
Watch the full press conference here:
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