Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday warned health care providers that if they didn’t quickly get all of their doses of COVID-19 vaccines into people’s arms, Virginia would short subsequent shipments.
“We can be faster, and we are going to be faster, and that starts with a simple message to health care providers, health departments, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and everywhere: You use it, or you lose it,” Northam said during a news briefing. “I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms. When you have vials, give out shots until they are gone.”
Northam said more doses are being manufactured and about 100,000 doses a week are being distributed in the state. Virginia has received 481,550 doses since shipments began in mid-December. As of Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health reports that 116,247 shots have been given, including 2,204 people who have received their second dose.
There has been some confusion about the doses and whether hospitals and health departments need to hold vials for second doses.
“You are going to get more, so don’t save anything,” Northam said.
He said about 14,000 people each day should be getting shots, a figure that he wants to see increase to 25,000 a day.
“That’s our next goal, and hitting it will depend on manufacturing ramping up and supplies being distributed to states over time. We don’t have everything we need yet. No state does because it is being manufactured literally in real time,” he said.
Carilion Clinic on Wednesday said it has administered nearly 6,000 first doses.
“We have offered the vaccination to all our employees and as of this week began second doses,” said Chad Alvarez, senior director of pharmacy, who is leading Carilion’s vaccine team. He said that the supply is stable and that Carilion is now rolling it out to its ambulatory centers and is partnering with the health district to vaccinate health care workers who aren’t employed by Carilion.
Carilion has about 13,000 employees.
Not everyone has agreed to take the vaccine. Alvarez said they are too early in the process to guess at a percentage.
Dr. Noelle Bissell, director of the New River Health District, during her weekly briefing Wednesday said that some medical practices have been nearly 100% while others less than half. She said her district has used up all 600 doses in its first shipment and is well into its second shipment.
She also said that they have been reaching out to providers who do not work with health systems to get them set up, but that they were not handed a list. Health care workers can contact the health department to get on the list.
Bissell said no doses are being wasted, and she addressed complaints that people have heard of non-front-line health care workers being vaccinated before all long-term care residents.
“I’m asking that people give each other a little grace. Remember, it’s a long process and there is a lot of logistics. There are multiple parallel avenues in which people are getting vaccinated,” she said.
Virginia has shipped doses to the health districts and to selected health systems that can handle the ultra-cold storage required for the Pfizer vaccine. The federal government has contracted with Walgreens and CVS to administer doses in long-term care facilities.
She asked people to be patient.
“This is the most ambitious public health vaccination campaign in our lifetime, and there are a lot of logistics,” she said.
Carilion’s chair of medicine, Dr. Paul Skolnik, said the rollout includes educating people about the safety of the vaccine.
He said that they have not seen any unexpected side effects, and that fewer than half of the people who have received it have had mild to moderate symptoms, such as fever, headache or muscle aches, that resolve in 24 to 48 hours. Those are signs the vaccine is working as the immune system builds a response.
Virginia is still in what is called Phase 1a, in which the vaccine is reserved for health care workers and for staff and residents of long-term care.
Northam did not say when Virginia will move to the next phase but said some places will get there before others.
He did announce that the state’s 285,000 teachers and childcare workers would be included in the next group of essential workers. This phase of about 1.2 million people includes firefighters, police, those who work in grocery stores and food processing plants, bus drivers and anyone 75 or older.
He expects by springtime to move to Phase 1c, which includes 1.2 million Virginians 65 and older, those with medical conditions that place them at high risk for serious illness or death from the virus, and construction, transportation, food service and utility workers.
Once those are completed, the vaccine will be available to anyone who wants it.
Northam encouraged all to take it.
“These vaccines are literally our path forward. They are good. They are safe. I will take them. My family will take them, and I would encourage all of you to take them as well,” he said. “It’s the clearest way to get back to something that feels like normal.”
The governor also appointed Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond Health District, to coordinate statewide vaccination efforts and he promised more transparency in vaccine reporting.