Vaccine supply still an issue in Virginia — and some health district directors are pulling double-duty amid rollout

COVID-19 Vaccine

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — After a slow start with administering COVID-19 vaccine doses to Virginians, Virginia is now reporting nearly 40,000 doses administered per week.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam toured a busy mass immunization clinic in the old Macy’s department store at Military Circle Mall to see the process there, as well as speak on vaccine distribution in the state.

Inside the store, employees of Norfolk Public Schools who had made appointments got the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. 924 had signed up for Wednesday, and 924 signed up for Thursday, and 1,800 signed up for Saturday. 

Kyleigh Hannigan, who is a school teacher at Bay View Elementary, got her Moderna dose Wednesday.

“It didn’t hurt, and I encourage everyone to go out and get it… I didn’t feel anything at all. I get my flu shot every single year, so it felt like that. My message to people: Get vaccines, stay safe, let’s get our lives back to normal, and get these kids back in the classrooms.”

Northam says teachers getting shots is critical to reopening schools.

“If we are going to get our children back to school, we want it to be done safely. This is the first step… This is the reason I made teachers a top priority. We want them to be vaccinated. It’s something we need to do to get children back in school, and it is a step in the right direction,” Northam said.  

“Get the kids back in school” is the cry Northam has heard and critics argue getting schools reopened has taken too long.

“A few weeks ago, especially, I wasn’t satisfied. I sensed the urgency among our population,” he said. 

By his own admission, Northam acknowledges Virginia started off slowly getting shots into arms.  

Everyone has had the same issues of getting vaccines, but Virginia lagged way behind other states. Last week, we were near the bottom in distributing the vaccine, but that was last week.

Northam says we turned the corner by setting new goals.

“Number one thing we did was set new goals. The first goal was to get to 25,000 doses a day. As you know, we are up to close to 40,000 on average a day,” he said. 

The governor’s office is claiming now that Virginia is in the top ten of all states in number of vaccines administered per day.

“We are getting 120,000 a week.  We need to ramp that up to 350,000 a week, and once we are able to do that the pharmacy will be playing a larger role in distributing the vaccine.” 

The governor also claims we are 12th in the nation using our vaccine supply most efficiently, citing New York Times data.

In Virginia vaccine is distributed based on population. In rural Virginia, the cry goes out for more vaccine doses.

Will Drewery is the emergency manager in the Western Tidewater Health District and spoke to 10 On Your Side Tuesday.

“The governor did ask us to move faster, and we are moving fast, but in a rural area based on population and based on distribution, it is challenging for us.”

10 On Your Side asked Northam to respond to that, and he said supply is the root issue with some health districts not getting enough doses.

“I hear that… I’m from a rural area on the Eastern Shore… There’s less people that live in the rural area, so everybody is going to have to work together. The bottom line, and this is a message to Washington and to the pharmaceutical companies, we need more doses,” Northam said. 

What we also need could be more health district directors. 10 On Your Side also asked the governor about that.  

A criticism of Northam has been how understaffed the state’s health districts are. 10 on Your Side has been checking this out. This goes to the basic question: In a time of disaster how prepared was Virginia?

According to the state’s health director phone list, which was last updated Jan. 4, 2021, there are seven Virginia health district directors who do double-duty acting as interim directors in adjoining jurisdictions. One of those leads three districts: Dr. Karen Shelton is the district director of the Mount Rogers Health District and is interim director in two others.

Here in Hampton Roads, two health district directors are interim directors in a second district. Dr. Demetria Lindsay leads Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Dr. Lauren James leads Portsmouth and the Western Tidewater Health District, which that covers 1,500 square miles.

In a time of pandemic, it can be argued that Virginia, in many counties, is understaffed. 10 On Your Side asked Northam about that, who said “That is a discussion for another day.”

Meanwhile, Northam critics argue the time is now. 

Northam went on to say “I want to commend our health districts along with the medical corps across Virginia.” 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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