RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday outlined Virginia’s detailed plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
“Getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move our commonwealth forward,” Northam said.
The Northam administration has chosen to put front line health care workers — including emergency medical technicians — and long-term care residents in the top-tier priority group for immunizations. The initial group covers an estimated 500,000 people.
That decision is based on federal recommendations. About 40 percent of deaths in the United States attributed to COVID-19 have occurred among residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, Northam said.
Next in line for vaccines will be essential workers and people 75 and older. The state estimates that there are about 2 million people in this group.
First responders, teachers, daycare workers, frontline essential workers in manufacturing, agriculture, food and grocery, public transit, and mail carriers will fall under the essential worker category, the governor said. Persons 75 and older will also be included in this grouping. The state estimates that this group will include 1.2 million people.
The governor said the state’s 285,000 teachers and childcare workers are a top priority for receiving the vaccine so schools can open as soon as possible.
The next group will be people 65 and older and workers in fields like transportation, food service, construction and energy. They represent another 2.5 million people, Northam said.
“People who are most at-risk first, then we will move quickly to essential workers, whose jobs can help get everyone back to work and back to normal again,” Northam said of the overall plan.
The three initial groups represent more than 50 percent of Virginia’s population.
In his remarks to the media Wednesday, the governor urged hospitals and health care providers with supplies of the vaccine to administer what they have.
“Use it or lose it. No one wants to see any supplies getting unused,” Northam said.
If a vaccine provider fails to use its full allotment, then its next shipment will be reduced.
“Doses will be allocated to places that need them,” the governor said.
As of Wednesday, Northam said Virginia is receiving about 110,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine a week, which works out to about 14,000 doses a day.
He said to get Virginian’s two shots later this year, they will need to double those numbers to giving 25,000 shots a day.
He said with about 8.5 million people in the state, 17 million doses of vaccine will be needed to get everyone vaccinated, considering that two shots are part of the vaccine for each person who gets it.
Northam’s goal is to have all Virginians vaccinated by summer.
“This prioritization is very complex,” Northam said. “We will have a lot more specifics in the days ahead.”
As of Wednesday, Virginia had vaccinated more than 115,000 people over a three-week period. Approximately 2,000 people had received the second shot of the vaccine.
“We are making progress, but there is no question we need to speed the process up,” Northam said.
Northam announced the appointment of Dr. Danny T.K. Avula to lead vaccination efforts in Virginia.
Avula, who serves as director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments, will coordinate work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals and private providers.
Dr. Norman Oliver, the state’s health commissioner, said more than 2,000 providers in the state have registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to become vaccinators. In addition, the state has entered into memorandums of understanding with approximately 120 pharmacies to distribute vaccines.
Meanwhile, the governor noted that the current level of COVID-19 cases are four times higher than in the spring of 2020, and he urged all Virginians to receive the vaccine as it becomes available.
“These vaccines are literally our path forward,” he said.
A University of Virginia forecast model said COVID-19 cases may peak in the state around Valentine’s Day, which is Feb. 14.
“It could be even longer, so we have a long winter ahead of us,” Northam said, while again stressing the need for people to wear face coverings, maintain six feet of social distance and wash their hands frequently.
“There are new strains of the virus now that are even more contagious,” he said.
A new variant of the virus, which originated in the United Kingdom, has made its way to the United States. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in four U.S. states.
Another strain that originated in South Africa is also beginning to spread to other countries.
Neither of those strains has been detected in Virginia, so far.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.