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Northam Pleads for Caution as COVID-19 Vaccine Nears

Man at podium
Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the state on COVID-19 following Thanksgiving. Case counts have continued to rise in the state, and things are only expected to worsen following family gathering around the holiday. (Screenshot from briefing)

Gov. Ralph Northam struck a somber tone Wednesday as he continued to ask citizens to take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Virginia is currently struggling with its worst bout of the virus as case counts and hospitalizations are at pandemic highs. More than 4,000 Virginians have died from the virus.

“If you think your right to ignore public health advice trumps your neighbor’s right to not get infected by you, these cases will just continue going up,” he said. “It’s just selfish. Rights are important, but we also need to emphasize responsibility.”

Despite the troubling statistics, Northam expressed optimism as two companies have sought emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for vaccines. The governor said once Pfizer receives authorization, which could come as soon as mid-December, the state will receive enough doses for 70,000 citizens. 

Virginia plans to administer the vaccine in phases, starting with healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. That group is roughly 500,000 people according to state epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake. The governor said every Virginian should be able to receive a vaccine, though that would take time. 

Northam highlighted both the historical success of vaccine programs and the Virginia Department of Health’s experience administering them.

“We have every reason to believe that these vaccinations are safe,” he said. “Vaccine science is nothing new. Vaccines have been around since the first smallpox vaccination, which was invented in 1796. Vaccines have reduced or eliminated many deadly diseases, saving millions of lives.”

With vaccines on the horizon, Northam called it “foolish” to take risks now and stressed the importance of maintaining precautions as the pandemic continues into its ninth month.

“If you want your kids back in school, our small businesses to reopen and thrive, and to go to concerts and entertainment events again, there’s only one way to get there: wear a mask and social distance now and get a vaccine when the time comes.”

Virginia recently implemented new restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus, though numbers have continued to surge since that mandate took effect. Northam said his administration is working with community organizations to make sure the virus is being taken seriously, but did not rule out imposing new restrictions if condition continue to worsen,

His previous restrictions have not been universally accepted, however, as the Board of Supervisors in Campbell County voted Tuesday night to reject the order, declaring the county just south of Lynchburg a “First Amendment Sanctuary.” Northam said he expects law enforcement to be essential in ensuring his order is carried out.

“I would remind everybody in Virginia that we are not the enemy, “ he said. “The enemy is the virus, and so we all need to work together to attack the virus, not each other.”

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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