Health Department Official Gives Vaccine Update

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Some of the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are received and put into ultracold storage at a Riverside Health System facility in Virginia on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Riverside Health System photo.

By Carol Vaughn —

As of Jan. 5, 241 Accomack County residents and 120 in Northampton County had received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Virginia Department of Health dashboard.
Two doses are needed for full effectiveness.
“The number of doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered that is displayed on the dashboard will always lag behind the actual number of doses administered,” as the data comes from information entered into a statewide information system by healthcare providers, according to Christy Gray, director of the VDH’s Division of Immunization.
Gray updated reporters on the state’s vaccination efforts in a Dec. 30 briefing.
“(W)e are expecting to increase our efficiency over time,” Gray said, adding, “I would like to say that 47,000 doses in two weeks (the number vaccinated statewide as of Dec. 30) is not a small number and we are proud of our Virginia providers for accomplishing that.”
More than 89,000 people had received the first dose of vaccine by Tuesday, Jan. 5, out of 451,075 doses distributed to healthcare sites, according to the dashboard.
Eighteen Virginia hospitals received the initial shipment of the Pfizer vaccine the week of Dec. 18 and began dispersing those shipments, totaling 72,125 doses, to frontline healthcare workers, according to Gray.
The state also received around 140,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine the week of Dec. 23.
Together, the vaccines are being distributed to a total of 96 sites around Virginia.
Virginia expected to have received 370,650 doses of vaccine by the end of December from the two manufacturers. That is 107,350 fewer doses than the state initially was told to expect by the federal Operation Warp Speed.
Virginia officials are planning for a weekly allocation of 100,000 doses for the next few weeks, Gray said.
Local health districts have been working with healthcare systems to plan for how to provide the vaccine to Group 1A individuals, which includes frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, Gray said.
Long-term care residents and staff began to receive vaccinations the last week of December. Most are getting vaccines on site through a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies.
“It’ll take approximately three to four weeks to get that first dose done with the skilled nursing facilities. And then we’ll also start these (assisted living) facilities in the coming three to four weeks based off of some scheduling that we’re still working out,” Gray said.
Information entered into a Virginia immunization information system will let providers know when to give an individual the second dose and which type of vaccine to give, and also provides proof a person has been vaccinated.
Virginia officials were expecting to receive final recommendations from the Virginia Disaster Medical Advisory Committee and the Virginia Unified Command on vaccination plans for priority groups 1B and 1C this week, Dr. Lorie Forlano of the VDH said during an interview aired Jan. 4 on WTVR.
Plans for vaccinating those groups should be announced soon thereafter.
Phase 1B will include people age 75 and over not living in congregate settings and frontline essential workers — including police, firefighters, teachers, daycare workers, U. S. Post Office employees, public transit workers, food and agriculture employees, manufacturing, and grocery store workers, according to recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
The next phase, Phase 1C, is recommended to include people age 65-74, younger people with high-risk health conditions; and other essential workers, including in transportation, food service, construction, finance, IT and communications, energy, media, legal service, public safety, and water and wastewater services.
Gray said the Eastern Shore’s poultry plant workers will fall under Phase 1B or 1C.
“And we had this recommendation under review right now…. And so once we have that information available, we will publish that on our website,” she said.
The timeline for vaccinating those next groups depends on factors including demand versus supply of vaccines.
Jon Richardson, chief operating officer of the Eastern Shore Health District, answered the following questions about the vaccination process for individuals in groups 1B and 1C via email Tuesday.
How will they know when it is their turn; how will people be notified?
Richardson: “As you are aware, we are working through this in a phased approach, currently still concentrating on frontline medical staff. Many of the groups in the phases are identified relative to their employment. We are reaching out to these folks through their employers, or in some cases, individually to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible. When we get to Phase 1B or subsequent phases we will make that known widely through every source available to us to reach our citizens. We know in Phase 1B we will need to change our notification processes to ensure equitable and timely distribution of vaccines to our most vulnerable populations and those at highest risk of exposure. We are currently working with Eastern Shore Rural Health and Riverside to finalize our plan for reaching those identified in the next phases by age or other criteria not dependent on their employer. We will have that in place and share well prior to entering Phase 1B.”
Where will they go to receive their vaccination?
Richardson: “This will be dependent on the group they are in and will vary widely in order for us to make maximum use of all resources available. Some will go to their primary care provider, some will be done through clinics offered by the Health Department at either one of our two locations or at other facilities with which we have partnership, some will be done at the site of their employer.”
Asked whether the VDH has a threshold for the number of vaccinations to be given to 1A individuals before moving on to the next groups, Gray said, “We don’t have a specific number in mind right now and we also are considering that one area of Virginia might hit that before another area of Virginia. So we are balancing the different districts and what their needs are.”
Gray called the situation “very fluid” and one “that we’re still learning.”
“I think we will continue to get more efficient as we’ve been planning so long to put all of these moving pieces in place and now that it’s working, they’re all getting into place. We’re getting more efficient about it. We’re getting used to all of these interacting with each other,” Gray said about progress in the vaccination rate.
Virginia mobilized the COVID-19 Unified Command, an interagency group, in March 2020 to manage state-level response to the pandemic.
Additionally, the COVID-19 Virginia Vaccine Advisory Workgroup provides guidance to the VDH on the vaccines. Its members represent a broad range of fields, including religious, education, healthcare, pharmaceutical, business, corrections, and government, among others. A roster can be viewed at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/193/2020/12/VAW-Member-Roster.pdf
The VDH website has answers to frequently asked questions about the vaccine at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/vaccination/
UPDATE: Eastern Shore Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths, and Outbreaks
The Eastern Shore Health District reported, between Dec. 28 and Jan. 5, 149 new cases,12 hospitalizations and two deaths in Accomack County and 26 new cases, three hospitalizations, and zero deaths for Northampton County residents, according to the Virginia Department of Health website.
The seven-day average test positivity rate for the Eastern Shore was 21.5% as of Tuesday, Jan. 5.
The district reported 61 visits to the emergency department for COVID-like symptoms the week ending Jan. 2 and 38 the previous week. The numbers do not reflect confirmed cases but help track the burden on local hospitals.
Accomack County currently has two outbreaks in progress, at Shore Health and Rehabilitation in Parksley, where 59 cases were reported as of Friday, Jan. 1, and an outbreak at the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office.
Between zero and five deaths related to the outbreak at Shore Health and Rehabilitation have been reported. To protect anonymity, if between 0 and 5 deaths are associated with an outbreak, the count is represented by an asterisk.
The numbers only include cases linked to the outbreak. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 but their exposure was determined to be outside of the setting and the person did not pass on the virus to anyone in the facility, the case is not reported on the health department’s outbreak dashboard.

Accomack Sheriff’s Office Reports Outbreak

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office resulted in the National Guard coming to test staff and jail inmates Tuesday.
“We did have some positives, more employees than inmates. They were asymptomatic and they are being quarantined according to the health department (requirements),” Accomack County Sheriff Todd Wessells said Thursday.
Inmates who tested positive also are being quarantined.
Wessells requested the National Guard to conduct testing after several people tested positive for the virus.
“They have been wonderful. We requested them Sunday evening and they were there Tuesday morning,” he said.
More than 170 people were tested, according to Wessells.
He declined to give the number who tested positive.
The Virginia Department of Health gives those numbers in a dashboard updated weekly, on Fridays, which can be viewed at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-data-insights/covid-19-outbreaks-by-selected-exposure-settings/
No one has been hospitalized to date during the outbreak, Wessells said.
Other law enforcement departments are assisting the sheriff’s office while some personnel are under quarantine.
“It’s a team effort,” Wessells said.
Wessells credited the Eastern Shore Health District and Emergency Coordinator J. J. Justis in particular with assisting the Sheriff’s Office during the pandemic.
Law enforcement personnel are slated to receive vaccines in the next phase, Phase 1B, according to the VDH.

Northampton County as of Jan. 1 had one outbreak pending closure, at Occohannock Elementary School, where the health department was notified of an outbreak on Nov. 28 and there were eight cases reported.
Pending closure means 28 days have passed without a documented new case and the outbreak has not yet been closed in the reporting system. The status refers to the outbreak investigation pending closure in the Virginia Outbreak Surveillance System, not the facility itself closing.