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If it had enough doses, Virginia could vaccinate 50,000 a day, state official says

If it had enough doses, Virginia could vaccinate 50,000 a day, state official says

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The head of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine program said the state now has a network capable of delivering 50,000 shots a day but is getting only a third of the vaccine needed to consistently hit that target.

Dr. Danny Avula made a round of media calls Thursday to talk about the rollout of the vaccine and how Virginia is seeking to make sure the most vulnerable people are vaccinated first.

Until last week the state was criticized as having among the worst records in the nation in reporting that it was using doses as quickly as the federal government shipped them.

Virginia’s ranking on that metric continues to climb as data reporting improves and as freezers are unloaded of first and second doses.

“We set goals to get to 50,000 shots a day, and we’ve done that the last four days of January,” he said. “We have seen remarkable capacity grow up around the state and so we are moving forward, we are poised and ready when vaccine supply increases to be able to vaccinate Virginians at a very, very high rate.”

Avula added, “We are going to continue to scrap and claw to get every dose that we can from the federal government, but we need to get to the 350,000-plus [per week] to be able to consistently hit 50,000 doses a day.”

Virginia has been receiving both Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines that require ultra-cold storage, and is expected to receive about 120,000 a week for the next few weeks. Supplies could increase as both manufacturers boost production, and once Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine receives emergency uses authorization by the federal government.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not need special storage and requires just one dose; however, the company’s initial report said it was 66% effective overall in preventing moderate or severe COVID. The protection was higher in the U.S., at 72%, but less than the 95%-plus rating for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

There is concern that people might think of it as a lesser vaccine.

Avula said logistically it would make sense to distribute Johnson & Johnson vaccine to rural areas. “But we absolutely cannot suggest that people in rural America should get a lesser effective vaccine,” he said.

Avula thinks the vaccine could be directed to younger, healthier people because they generally fare better if they contract COVID.

In approving vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration also makes recommendations as to who should receive them.

Avula is also sorting through questions about whether current vaccine supplies are reaching minority populations. Initially, data about race and ethnicity were not being collected on vaccine distribution, so the state is trying to cross-match shots given against other state databases, such as from the Department of Motor Vehicles, to fill in this information.

“We know African Americans and Hispanics and Latino residents are at a higher risk to contract COVID, to be hospitalized with COVID and unfortunately to pass away from COVID,” he said. “We need to ensure efforts to prioritize those individuals, African Americans and Latinos, are underway.”

Gov. Ralph Northam last month tapped Avula, director of the Henrico Health District, to lead the state’s rollout after a slow start.

Since then a new structure with leaders from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has been established to coordinate efforts. Earlier in the week, Avula told the state’s vaccine advisory work group that members of its subgroups, including communications and barriers, would be integrated into the new framework.

Avula said that he couldn’t speak to what occurred before he took over, but that the new command is in response to the complexities of the vaccination rollout.

The process became more difficult when Virginia moved from vaccinating only health care workers and long-term care residents and staff to more essential workers and older Virginians without an increases in available doses. Initially, Phase 1b was for those 75 and older.

“What happened is when 1b opened up to 65 and older and younger with underlying conditions at the direction of the federal government, we created this very significant supply and demand mismatch,” he said.

The state also had left the local health districts to manage their own registration systems without the staff or technology to keep up with heavy demand.

Avula expects an announcement next week on a centralized registration system and call center.

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