Virginia’s vaccine rate climbs as supply slowly increases


By Taylor Boyd

Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia has increased its vaccination rate at his Feb. 5 conference.

“We made some changes to our vaccination plan last week that is bearing fruit. We adjusted our inventory management plans. We worked with hospitals that had second doses they couldn’t be used yet and shifted those doses to get them into arms of vulnerable Virginians,” Northam said.

He said these changes are allowing shots to be put in arms faster.

“We’ve administered 86 percent of our first doses and 67 percent of our total doses,” for those able to get the vaccine. “That puts us twelfth among other states,” he said. “Over nine percent of our population has received at least the first dose of vaccine. That’s nineth among states.”

Northam said he expects the state to soon pass one million doses administered, which is “more than double the total positive cases we’ve had since our first case on March 7.”

He said the first wave of vaccine distribution went largely to areas with large health systems. “That makes sense because the first wave was the reach our healthcare workers,” he said.

“The Southwest region has a higher vaccination rate than many of the state’s populous areas. That’s good to see, and it’s a testament to the hard work of the health districts and health systems in our Southwest. That region was particularly hard hit toward the end of the year with serious concerns about hospital bedspace and the population tends to be older and to have more health conditions,” Northam said.

The increased vaccination rate is good news, especially considering Virginia saw record numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in January, he said.

“The virus, as you have heard, is mutating and changing. The variant of the virus from the U.K. is here. We’ve had four positive cases identified so far in Virginia. Yesterday, unfortunately, the private lab company, LabCorp, identified the first case of the South African variant right here in Virginia,” Northam said.

“Every state wants more vaccines from our federal government, but we can’t make it ourselves. I’m confident however, that we’re ready when that supply increases,” he said, adding the vaccines in the pipeline for federal approval will help.

Northam said Virginia received 23 percent more doses this week than it previously did.

“It’s still not a huge jump, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Virginia also is training 750 new call center workers to staff the vaccine registration hotline.

“Wherever you are in Virginia, you’ll be able to call this call center and receive information and pre-register if you’re eligible for the vaccination. The line,” when it goes live, will “be available in English and in Spanish. You can also request a call back in over 60 other languages,” he said.

“If you’ve already pre-registered through your local health district, you do not need to pre-register again, you are already in the system. The call center, as well as a state-wide online registration system that is coming soon, will feed into the same pre-registration database. The information will be shared with your local health districts, and right now all local health districts have clear information on their websites about vaccine eligibility and how people can pre-register online or by phone,” Northam said.

He said the federal government will soon start shipping additional COVID-19 vaccines to some pharmacies.

“The Biden administration announced the next phase of the Federal Pharmacy partnership. In Virginia, CVS will be the first pharmacy in this rollout because it has the most locations of any pharmacy in Virginia,” he said, adding the state is working with other chains like Walmart, Walgreens, and Kroger with health departments working with independent pharmacies.

Nancy Bell, public information officer, said the West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) is receiving 1,600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine weekly.

“About 7,000 doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered in the WPHD since the vaccine first became available. At present, more than 20,000 registrations have been received. We expected the number to be at least that high,” she said.

Bell said the WPHD “will continue to hold ‘closed’ vaccination events, and the health departments will continue to schedule onsite appointments as allowed by vaccine supplies. This is a tremendous effort, and it’s going to take time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine inlcude flu-like symptoms, “which are normal signs that your body is building protection. These side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but that should go away in a few days.”

Common side effects on the arm where one receives the shot include pain and swelling, and the rest of the body may experience fever, chills, tiredness, and headache, according to the CDC.

“If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen,” it added.

To reduce pain and discomfort where you got the shot, the CDC suggests applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area the shot was given and exercising the arm.

“Drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly to reduce discomfort from a potential resulting fever,” according to the CDC.

“Serious problems for vaccination can happen but are rare. If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours, or if your side effects are worrying you, or do not seem to be going away after a few days,” contact your doctor or healthcare provider, the organization said.

Bell said side effects typically last about 12-hours and are more likely to occur after the second dose is administered. No serious reactions to the vaccine have occurred in the WPHD “that we are aware of,” she said.

If a person has a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends not receiving either of the currently available mRNA vaccines. The CDC said those who had a reaction after receiving the first dose “should not get the second dose of the vaccine.”

“Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19, and the fact that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19 infection,” the CDC said.

“If you were treated for COVID-19 symptoms with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma,” the agency recommends waiting 90 days before taking the vaccine.

Bell recommends that everyone continue to follow CDC guidelines like social distancing, washing their hands, and mask wearing even after the initial dose of the vaccine is administered because the vaccine is not fully effective until after the second dose.

She said it is also important to continue following those guidelines “until the majority of the population has been vaccinated,” because those who receive the vaccine can still spread COVID-19.

She said weekly vaccination clinics are planned in both Henry and Patrick counties soon.

Larger mass vaccination events are being planned, but the vaccine supply must increase before appointments are scheduled for those, Bell said.

“Some physician offices and pharmacies are ready to being vaccinating as soon as supplies arrive,” she said. “Once the supply improves, things should go quickly.”

As of Tuesday, Feb. 8 data from the Virginia Department of Health suggested there are 3,942 cases, with 260 hospitalizations, and 83 deaths in Henry County. In Patrick County, 1,119 cases with 82 hospitalized, and 30 dead from the COVID-19 virus were reported. In the City of Martinsville, 1,436 cases were reported with 119 hospitalized, and 37 dead.

The data also suggests there are 534,116 cases in the state, with 22,339 hospitalized, and 6,898 dead from the COVID-19 virus. Information from the CDC suggested there are 26,852,809 cases in the United States and 462,037 dead from coronavirus.

Data also suggests that as of Feb. 8, 217,605 Virginians have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

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