Virginia hopes to receive enough coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of December for most of its healthcare workers and long-term care residents to get their first shot.
Based on the latest information from the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, Virginia would get 480,000 doses from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna. That is just shy of the estimated 500,000 healthcare professors and long-term care residents in the state, according to a press release.
“We will focus initially on the groups that have been most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infections and those whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 infections,” Virginia Health Commissioner Norm Oliver said in a statement Friday.
“Over time, as more vaccine supply becomes available, more Virginians will be able to get vaccinated, and we can look forward to a time when this pandemic will end.”
In line with federal guidance, Virginia will prioritize healthcare workers and long-term care residents for initial doses of the vaccine. Gov. Ralph Northam has said that by early to mid-summer, he hopes most people in Virginia will be vaccinated.
Both the vaccine frontrunners require two doses. The second Pfizer shot comes three weeks after the first, and the Moderna booster comes four weeks later. In a mid-November update to its vaccine plan, Virginia said, “a reserve [of vaccine] will be held at the federal level to ensure access to a second dose.”
“We do expect to receive second doses at the appropriate time,” a health department spokesperson confirmed to WAMU/DCist Sunday.
The state’s first shipment of roughly 72,000 Pfizer vaccine doses should arrive in mid-December, according to the press release, pending emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
Virginia will distribute the shots to healthcare systems that have ultracold storage capacity — the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at -94 degrees. Healthcare workers who provide direct care to COVID-19 patients will be the top priority for these initial doses, according to the health department.
The department says “subsequent weekly shipments” of the vaccine will be divided between healthcare workers and long-term care centers.
Most nursing home residents and staff will get their shots at pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens. The Moderna vaccine does not require ultracold storage, which makes it easier to administer to people outside a hospital setting, officials said.
Several hundred thousand vaccine doses is more than Virginia had previously announced. As of last week, Virginia had only said it was anticipating 70,000 or so does of the Pfizer vaccine. And health officials had divided their “Phase 1” priority group into multiple subgroups in case initial supply was very limited.
Virginia estimates it will spend $121 million on vaccine distribution. In October, Northam allocated $22 million in CARES Act funding to support vaccine distribution through the end of the year. Northam said he would identify additional sources of funding to continue operations into 2021.
Localities in the region are also beginning to prepare. Next week, the Arlington County Board plans to consider accepting two state grants — totaling $660,000 — to support the mass distribution of the vaccine. The funding would go toward expenses like hiring temporary workers, renting facilities and operating clinics, according to the county.
D.C. officials, meanwhile, are fighting for additional vaccine doses. Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week the city is slated to get nearly 7,000 doses, enough for about 10% of the healthcare workforce. The federal government’s plan determines vaccine allotment based on residency, which Bowser said hurts D.C. because roughly three-quarters of its healthcare workers live in Maryland or Virginia.
“So far, the Operation Warp Speed is approaching every jurisdiction by resident population, and we think that that especially doesn’t work for us because of how people live and work in our region,” Bowser said during Friday’s episode of The Politics Hour. “We are an outlier with the number of health care workers that don’t actually live in the District. So that makes it very difficult for us to get up to 30% or 50% of our health care workers, given our population.”