Gov. Northam Outlines Priority Groups for COVID-19 Vaccine

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Gov. Ralph Northam stands behind Dr. Danny Avula, who introduces himself at a Jan. 6 press briefing. Avula, the director of the Richmond and Henrico County health departments, is Northam's appointee to lead Virginia's COVID-19 vaccination program.

By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam’s goal for getting “back to normal” after the coronavirus pandemic is for each of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents to receive both rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine, or a total of 17 million shots.

“Our country – your country – needs your help to get past this pandemic,” said the governor during a Jan. 6 press conference in which he outlined the strategy for getting Virginians vaccinated for COVID-19 and ensured the public of the vaccine’s safety.

About 110,000 Virginians have been vaccinated for COVID-19 within the last three weeks, since the vaccine became available. About 2,000 people already have received the required two doses.

Virginia’s doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other healthcare workers are first in line for the COVID-19 vaccine, followed by residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, for a total of about 500,000 people.

Second to receive the vaccine will be essential workers including firefighters, police, hazmat workers, and other first responders; food processing and manufacturing workers; postal workers and bus drivers; and the elderly, age 75 and up.

“Every worker is important, but certainly these are: people who work in jobs that keep our society functioning, people who are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, and people who cannot work remotely,” Northam said.

Teachers and childcare workers also belong to the second group that totals about 1.2 million people, Northam said.

“Teachers are critical to getting schools back open, and that’s critical to people getting back to work and literally getting back to normal,” he said.

It will likely take until spring to vaccinate the first- and second-priority groups, Northam said.

Third priority are the next level of essential workers, including those in food service, transportation, construction, and utilities, as well as people age 65 and up and individuals under age 65 with high-risk medical conditions, a total of 2.5 million people.

Those three priority groups account for roughly half the population of Virginia and Phase 1 of the commonwealth’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The general population can be vaccinated during Phase 2.

The Virginia Department of Health is developing online tools for determining dates, times, and locations of COVID-19 vaccination events. Participants will be able to sign up online or by phone.

About 14,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are administered in Virginia every day. Virginia’s goal is to increase that number to 25,000 doses per day and then 50,000 doses per day, Northam said.

Virginia set and met goals for COVID-19 testing and it can do the same with the vaccine. Early in the pandemic, Virginia was testing about 5,000 people every day for COVID-19. The goal was raised to 10,000 tests per day and was reached; some days as many as 50,000 COVID-19 tests are done, Northam pointed out.

He advised medical facilities to “use it or lose it”: COVID-19 vaccines should be administered as soon as possible to avoid having future allotments of the vaccine reduced.

“We have to step up our game, right when everyone is exhausted. Months of work around the clock with no time off and endless stress has left everyone spent and worn out,” Northam acknowledged.

He announced his appointment of Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico County health departments, to lead Virginia’s vaccination program.

Avula will coordinate vaccination efforts by state officials, local health departments, hospitals, and private healthcare providers, Northam said. The National Guard also will assist with vaccinations as more become available.

Northam, a doctor, said he believes the vaccine is safe based on his years of medical experience and participation in more than 200 clinical trials.

He called the COVID-19 vaccine “a success story in a year that didn’t have very many.”