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Officials Address Virginia’s Lagging Vaccine Count at Vaccination Event

Crixell Matthews
Dr. Danny Avula, who leads Virginia's vaccination efforts, spoke to reporters during a COVID-19 vaccination event at the Richmond Raceway on Thursday. The vaccination event was closed to the general public; all individuals eligible to receive vaccine were preregistered by their localities or departments. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

During a mass vaccination event Thursday for pre-registered essential workers, including teachers, police and firefighters, public health and government officials broke down Virginia’s vaccination numbers, which currently lag behind most other states.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently ranks Virginia in the bottom 10 of all U.S. states and territories for its vaccination rates. Avula says this is mainly due to a gap between the actual number of vaccines administered and the number the Virginia Department of Health is currently reporting.

VDH currently shows about 400,000 shots have been administered, but Avula says there are another 90,000 shots that have been put in arms but have not yet been registered in the state’s database. 

“Either we need to do manual entry in those cases or ensure that the registration systems that those patients were registered on, and that the vaccine was given to, has an appropriate link to our state database, which is where we pull out all of the data,” Avula told reporters.

On top of those vaccines, the public health leader said 226,000 vaccines have also been set aside for CVS and Walgreens to administer at long-term care facilities, as part of a federal partnership program with the pharmacy chains. In total, Avula says Virginia has distributed 960,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses. 

“Many of our long-term care facilities are actually experiencing active COVID outbreaks, which means we’ve got to put off those vaccination events by a couple weeks, or until things settle down in those communities, so that’s gonna stretch out our timeline a bit,” he said.

Avula’s explanation comes after a recent report from the Virginia Mercury that says local health departments have criticized the VDH for a lack of clarity and transparency over its vaccine allocation efforts. Avula acknowledged that Virginia faces a supply issue and asked for patience as the state gets through its second vaccination phase, which currently targets some essential workers and people 65 or older. He added that this current phase may take “a couple months.”

Avula also mentioned that given the short vaccine supply, Virginia will proceed to distribute vaccines based on population. 

“What we are doing moving forward is just doing a geographical distribution based on population,” he said. “As of last night, that's about 105,000 [doses] for this upcoming week, and so we will just split that based on population density across the commonwealth. Then each district will get their share, and then the district has to determine what are the channels that the vaccine is going to come through.”

The state distributes vaccine doses to local health districts on a weekly basis, typically on Tuesdays. Avula said this week, Virginia sent out a total of 166,000 doses. About 105,000 of those were first doses, and 61,000 were second doses.

Gov. Ralph Northam also spoke during the vaccination event. He praised the efforts of the state’s health officials and called on Virginia residents to hang tight as vaccines become more available.

“This is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel,” Northam said. “I want Virginians to be patient. I want them to know that we're going to get to everybody. We're gonna do it as quickly as we can. We're going to do it as expeditiously as we can, and we're also going to do it as equitably as we can.”

Avula told reporters he aims to have 70% to 80% of Virginia’s population fully immunized by the summer. He says the state continues to tackle not only the barrier of vaccine supply, but also the barrier of hesitancy among patients, and that Virginia is launching various efforts to build trust in disenfranchised communities. 

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