RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam says his administration will play an expanded role in coordinating acquisition and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I understand your frustration. I know you are out of patience, and I am as well,” Northam said in response to the growing criticism of the state’s vaccine rollout.
“We are ramping up vaccinations. This is no time to let down our guard,” Northam said.
Virginia has ranked toward the bottom of states for doses administered per 100,000 people, however, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released on Wednesday ranked the state 26th.
The latest numbers from the Virginia Department of Health showed more than 600,000 shots had been given out as of Wednesday, with more than 26,000 administered per day on average.
“Everyone across the country is tired of the pandemic. We all want to put COVID behind us, and get back to normal. We know that vaccines are the way out and everyone wants to get their shot now I get that,” Northam said.
The governor said his administration is working to make vaccine administration more consistent. More guidance will be offered to health districts throughout the state. Northam said the guidance will help clarify how health districts can prioritize distribution of the vaccine.
He said about half of available doses should be given to people 65 and older. The other half should be given to frontline workers and other high-risk populations.
Northam is also directing the Virginia Department of Health to set up a centralized system.
To date, sign-ups have largely been managed at the local level.
“I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians,” the governor said. “That confusion is justified because the answer has not been clear but we’re going to have this fixed very soon.”
To improve its transparency to the public, VDH launched a more detailed dashboard on Wednesday that shows exactly where doses are being distributed.
Northam reminded the public how the vaccine production and distribution processes work on the state and federal levels.
The federal government enters into contracts with pharmaceutical companies to manufacture the vaccine. The federal government then allocates the vaccines to states, based on population. The state, in turn, distributes the vaccines to health districts, hospitals and clinics.
“People can get shots only if we have shots to give and there has been a lot of uncertainty about that,” Northam said.
Northam laid some of the blame on former President Donald Trump’s administration.
More than two weeks ago, Trump’s secretary of health and human services instructed states to open up vaccine eligibility to those 65 and older, as well as people 16-64 with underlying health conditions.
Those segments of the population were added to a a large group of frontline essential workers also being prioritized in Virginia’s Phase 1b distribution plan.
That means that approximately one-half of Virginians are now eligible for the shot, Northam said.
After Virginia and other states announced the new plans, it was learned that federal supplies of vaccine meant to support the expanded eligibility didn’t exist.
“That made a confusing situation even more confusing,” Northam said. “That led to a reality of too much supply in some places and not enough in others. That’s true in Virginia and around the country.”
The governor said President Joe Biden’s administration has since committed to increasing vaccine supplies to states by 16 percent.
Northam said Biden’s plan went into effect immediately after it was announced on Tuesday.
Northam said Biden’s plan will help provide stability, as states can plan ahead for a month instead of from week to week.
With the COVID pandemic continuing, Northam announced that he is extending public safety measures that were set to expire Sunday. Those measures have been extended until the end of February.
The measures include:
— A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew requiring people to stay at home unless they’re getting food or goods, seeking medical attention or traveling for work.
— An expansion of the mask mandate for all Virginians ages five and older in indoor public settings and outdoor public spaces “within six feet of another person.”
— A reduced capacity limit on social gatherings such as parties, private dining and fitness classes. The limit does not apply to religious services, places of employment, educational settings and commercial businesses
— Dining establishments are prohibited from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. They must close by midnight.
Gavin Dressler Photo