RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Gov. Ralph Northam said vaccinations could start in Virginia as early as this weekend but it all depends on when an immunization is officially approved.
On Thursday, the federal government’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), made up of independent experts from across the country, endorsed the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine. The panel voted 17 to 4, with one abstention, that the benefits of an emergency use authorization (EUA) outweigh the risks for individuals 16 years or older.
On Friday, the FDA said in a statement that it “will rapidly work toward finalization and issuance” of an authorization. Some reports suggest that could happen as early as Friday evening, though 8News has not been able to independently verify that.
“The agency has also notified the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed, so they can execute their plans for timely vaccine distribution,” the FDA’s statement continued.
If Pfizer gets the green light, Virginia’s first shipment is expected to contain more than 72,000 doses.
The Virginia Medical Disaster Advisory Committee has already decided who will get them first, based on CDC recommendations.
The committee’s resolution released last week said, “The initial shipment of Pfizer vaccine should be distributed in its entirety to Virginia hospitals and health systems for administration to healthcare personnel who directly engage in the care of or interact with patients known or suspected of COVID-19, or who have direct exposure to potentially infectious materials from patients known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.”
At his press conference on Thursday, Gov. Northam gave reporters an update on the expected timeline for vaccine distribution.
“If approved, we can expect vaccinations to begin in Virginia within 24 to 48 hours. Just as soon as this weekend possibly,” Northam said. “Again this is very hopeful news. These vaccines are created by the world’s best scientists and getting ourselves vaccinated is the only way to end this pandemic.”
Last Friday, the state submitted a detailed plan to the federal government so that doses would be ready to ship to identified sites immediately upon FDA approval.
At least for now, the Virginia Department of Health is not revealing the specific sites due to “security and logistical” concerns.
Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association Communications Vice President Julian Walker said initial doses will be shipped to nearly 20 sites that are geographically diverse and have the ultra-cold storage necessary for the Pfizer immunization.
After months of early planning, Walker said talks with federal officials and manufacturers continued on Friday to make sure things go smoothly.
“So that our recipient sites are ready to receive the shipment but also they know precisely what to do with it, how to store it, how to handle it and how to administer it once it is received,” Walker said. “The planning work has happened but it’s still ongoing because this is a fluid situation.”