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Vaccines start to arrive; need exceeds doses / December 16, 2020
Virginia received about 72,150 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday as the rollout of the FDA-approved injections began this week.

The vaccine drug, which Gov. Ralph Northam called “a remarkable medical achievement” and “much needed symbol of hope,” has not yet been allocated in quantities sufficient to inoculate the 390,000 healthcare workers in the state, or the 97,000 residents and workers at long-term care facilities.

Richmond-based VCU Health Systems said it expects to receive approximately 3,800 doses for initial distribution across VCU hospitals, clinics and provider locations. How many, if any, of those will be distributed to health care workers at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill was not immediately disclosed.

In a statement to the press, VCU-CMH spokesperson Kristy Fowler said, “We will offer the vaccine in phases. We will first offer the vaccines to interested front-line medical workers so they can safely care for all of our patients during the pandemic. This includes those who provide care to known or suspected COVID-19 patients, such as in our COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit or our emergency department. It also includes employees who regularly work in long-term care facilities.”

The hospital in South Hill will receive a daily shipment of the vaccine from VCU Health in Richmond, where the vaccine is being stored to be administered to interested high-risk, front-line medical workers. Fowler said once more vaccines are available and “we learn more about the new vaccines, our plan will include distributing the vaccine to an expanded pool of VCU Health employees, patients and hopefully, the broader community.

“Though exact timing is uncertain, we will always make decisions with the safety of our team members, patients and the community in mind,” she said.

Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital is also among the medical facilities that received the first round of vaccines headed to Virginia, though a spokesperson for the hospital did not say how many doses were obtained. Norfolk-based Sentara Healthcare received 11,700 doses to be shared across its system of hospitals, physician practices and other provider sites.

Medical and support staff working in Sentara emergency rooms, intensive care units, COVID patient units and respiratory care units will be the first to be inoculated with the vaccine, which requires the administration of two doses spaced three weeks apart.

Sentara officials on Monday said they would “stand up vaccine clinics where the vaccine will be administered later this week. We expect additional shipments, but dates are to be determined.” The vaccine is not yet available to the community, and officials with the hospital system asked the public not to come to its hospital seeking the vaccine.

Northam said healthcare workers and residents and staff of nursing homes will be first in line to receive the vaccine, in accordance with CDC guidance to the states. “Because of their exposure to the virus and their critical role of keeping the hospitals functioning,” Northam said health care workers would receive priority, as well “residents and staff of nursing homes, as they account for nearly 40 percent of deaths from COVID-19.”

Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, announced shipments of what is estimated at 2.9 million doses of the first vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to more than 600 locations across the country.

To date, the Trump Administration has refused to disclose the number of doses the federal government is sending to each state or jurisdiction. Instead, Perna said priority would go to those hospitals battling climbing case counts and mounting deaths.

Virginia may not be among the most prioritized states. In the past week, despite seeing an average confirmed case count of 3,754 and 29 deaths per day, the Commonwealth ranks 45th among most confirmed cases per capita for all 50 states and D.C. during the same period.

The distribution plan called for moving the vaccine from Pfizer’s manufacturing facility on Sunday to 145 facilities on Monday, which were primarily large health-care systems able to handle the vaccines and their storage at ultra an ultra-cold temperature of -70°C. Another 500 or so facilities received their first doses on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Once a second vaccine by Moderna is approved by the FDA for emergency distribution — approval can come as early as Friday, according to reports — Northam said Virginia should receive another 480,000 vaccine doses by the end of the year. He estimated that was enough to give a single dose of the vaccine to the balance of the state’s healthcare workers and all long-term care residents, but not enough to provide booster shots that are needed 3-4 weeks after the initial inoculation.

Northam said as more vaccines are received, distribution will then go to essential workers, teachers, and first responders. Third in line are people with pre-existing conditions and adults age 65 and older. The number of prioritized recipients totals 3.57 million. Virginia will need 8.54 million doses of the vaccine to inoculate its population.

Both VCH Health and Sentara officials stressed that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary and their employees are not required to consent to the shots. Officials further stressed that all staff, regardless of whether they are inoculated, will continue to wear proper PPE, including masks, and follow health and safety protocols.

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