RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Virginia will get a 16% increase in COVID-19 vaccines immediately going forward to help the commonwealth ramp up vaccine rollout, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a briefing Wednesday.
Northam also announced many other news items during the briefing, including the extension of current coronavirus restrictions, new guidance for administering 1b vaccinations, an updated state vaccination dashboard and a future one-stop-shop website for applying for the vaccine.
More supply from feds, but supply still limited
Virginia and the other states learned on Tuesday they’d get the extra doses when the Biden administration announced it was buying 200 million more doses of vaccine, 100 each from Pfizer and Moderna.
The new allotment from the federal government will also be locked in at that increase (which will be about 130,000 doses per week, up from about 110,000), meaning Virginia can plan out their vaccine distribution a month ahead of time instead of a week-to-week basis.
Northam acknowledged it’s a start, but the commonwealth will need 350,000 doses per week to get to its eventual goal of 50,000 Virginians vaccinated per day. Northam said the state met its goal of administering 25,000 shots a day and is now giving more than 26,000 shots a day.
“Our progress is very much going to be supply dependent,” Northam said.
Virginia had only been getting around 110,000 doses per week, and that limited supply hindered its efforts to expand vaccinations.
According to CDC data, Virginia has administered 594,828 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine which is a little more than half of the vaccines distributed to the state.
Northam said he has spoken with the White House twice in the past week. He heard states were dealing with the same issues as in Virginia, such as not enough supply and issues with distribution.
That uncertainty of doses has led to the frustrating rollout, with some health providers holding onto their supply to make sure people got their second doses. Northam put a lot of the blame on outgoing HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Northam says Azar told states to “open up eligibility to 65 and older and we’ll send more doses,” but Azar later said those doses weren’t coming after all.
On Tuesday, the House of Delegates also passed emergency legislation that aims to expand the capacity of vaccination distribution efforts as more federal doses come in.
Head of vaccine rollout Dr. Danny Avula says most of the doses in that large gap between “doses administered” versus those distributed was due to providers withholding that second dose.
Northam says health providers can now be assured of a second scheduled doses from the federal government, and he’s pushing providers not hold back doses going forward. He says coordination is improving to move supply as needed, after inventory management issues in which there was too much supply in some places and not enough in others.
Despite the low supply coming in, Virginia has been criticized for not administering those vaccines it has gotten, at times ranking among the worst states for administering doses. Northam again has said that was due to providers holding back doses and data input lag. He says Virginia is better than most neighboring states.
The governor said healthcare workers were included in the first round of eligibility for vaccines, and that there is “no excuse for first doses to be sitting around.” Northam’s team has been working to shift around excess inventory around to increase the number of shots given by 20% this week.
“That’s about 40,000 more shots by this Sunday,” Northam said.
Representatives from Walgreens and CVS said they would help Virginia reach its vaccination goals by administering vaccine to assisted living and long term care facilities. Both pharmacies said they were on target to meet their goal of getting through these facilities before the end of February.
“These pharmacies are doing very important work, reaching people who are most at risk,” Northam said.
Restrictions staying in place through February, new guidance on 1b
Virginia’s “modified stay-at-home order” that was originally announced in December is being extended through February as coronavirus metrics remain high and vaccine supply remains low.
That includes a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew and a 10-person limit on gatherings.
1b vaccinations, which are now taking place through Virginia, will now go 50% to people 65 and older and 50% to others in 1b.
The safety measures that largely took effect last month were set to expire on Jan. 31 without further action. Now, Northam plans to keep them in place at least through the end of February.
- A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew requiring people to stay at home unless they’re getting food/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 like parties, private dining and fitness classes. The cap does not apply to religious services, places of employment, educational settings and commercial businesses
- Dining establishments will still be prohibited from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. and all must be closed by midnight.
The National Federation of Independent Business Virginia State Director, Nicole Riley, responded to the restrictions Wednesday.
“Every time hard-hit small businesses see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the pandemic restrictions the tunnel seems to get a bit longer, so the news of a month-long extension is disheartening. But, we are certainly grateful that the Governor hasn’t chosen to increase capacity limits and hope with widespread vaccinations all restrictions will be lifted and Virginians will be more likely to dine out, go to the movies, or attend events.
“We fought making Virginia’s temporary emergency workplace standards permanent, and think businesses would find being first in the nation to do that is more of a dubious distinction. Business owners cared about the safety of their workers and customers and did everything the CDC recommended, but the science is ever-changing so locking in that one-size-fits-all regulation is not only counterintuitive but very difficult and inflexible for the wide variety of businesses out there.”
Centralized vaccine website coming
Currently people are going to their local health districts and private providers to sign up for vaccinations. Northam says coming soon all vaccine signups will go through the Virginia Department of Health’s website.
“I’ve directed the VDH to stand up a single statewide system with a phone number and a website where every Virginian can go and have their information go to the right place,” Northam said.
He said the site is a main priority and he expects it to launch soon.
BELOW: Watch the full briefing with Northam Wednesday.