Virginia could see an influx of COVID-19 vaccine doses this week after shipments were delayed during the winter weather affecting much of the country last week.
“We have had big delays in vaccinations delivered,” said Dr. Danny TK Avula, state vaccine coordinator, who spoke in a Friday afternoon telephone media briefing.
He said about 16,000 Moderna vaccinations weren’t delivered last week, so their estimated arrival early this week they could boost the availability of vaccination appointments through area health departments, small pharmacies and other providers that receive allocations through the Virginia Department of Health.
The VDH, which rolled out its statewide registration system last week, is still focusing on vaccinating groups most at risk from the coronavirus, Avula said.
These populations include people 65 and older as well as essential worker groups that Virginia has deemed most important to maintaining a functioning society: first responders, health-care personnel, child care workers, K-12 school personnel and the residents and staff of long-term care facilities, group homes, correctional facilities and other congregate settings.
Though people age 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions are among the Phase 1b group eligible for the vaccine in Virginia, Avula said that health districts are prioritizing groups based on their community needs and the number of vaccines they receive each week.
The Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren, has not yet announced when it will include that group.
Avula said that districts are allocating vaccinations based on the level of risk: 50% to people 65 and older and 50% to essential workers.
Though he said Virginia likely won’t start addressing Phase 1c essential worker groups until mid-April, by that time he expects more vaccine availability to make the gap between Phase 1c and the general public a lot smaller.
He said the vaccines being developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca could receive emergency approval by then, increasing the number of vaccines available through providers, which he also expects to see in greater numbers.
National pharmacy chains working through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program include CVS, Walmart and Walgreens, but the program is expanding to include others, he said.
So far, only select CVS locations are offering vaccines in the Lord Fairfax district, but Avula said more businesses and locations will be available in the coming weeks.
State allocations are going to smaller community pharmacies as well as health-care providers and clinics that work with underserved and unserved populations, such as low-income groups and minorities.
To reach those most vulnerable to the virus, Avula said most health department vaccine “points of dispensation” (PODs) are open only to select groups. By the end of April, he expects the state to have enough supply to ship to more “open” PODs.
Eventually, he said, the idea is for people to sign up for vaccine appointments through the statewide system. For now, though, it’s a waitlist only.
But even as the valley waits for more vaccines, COVID-19 data is promising.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, Virginia is performing well compared to other states on rates of new cases, deaths and vaccinations, the University of Virginia COVID-19 Model announced in its weekly Friday report.
One of its six model scenarios — the Adaptive Fatigue Control Variant B117 scenario — was showing a peak in cases later this spring, but now all model scenarios show that weekly cases have already peaked at just over 68 average daily cases per 100,000 residents during the week ending Jan. 24.
The model results are based on Virginians continuing to take precautions to slow the rate of the virus, so the report cautions people not to relax their behavior as new variants take hold.
“The most significant obstacle to continued improvement in case counts remains the further emergence of variants,” the report states.
Avula expects that by late March, the United Kingdom B117 variant will be the most dominant variant in Virginia.
Touting the protection of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said research is continuing on its usefulness against new variants as well as its effectiveness in those who have received the vaccine.
He offered reassurances to people whose appointments were postponed last week due to inclement weather, saying it’s OK to delay the second dose a few days or weeks. In fact, he said evidence is showing that delaying the second dose may even boost its effectiveness.
“Waiting up to six weeks is totally fine,” he said, repeating advice from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
“Waiting longer might even be better,” Avula said.