(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Vaccine distribution in Virginia started three weeks ago, and in Arlington County, the focus remains on healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Officials say widespread distribution is still months away.
“We certainly share the enthusiasm about the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, and we appreciate everyone’s patience during this initial rollout,” Ryan Hudson, the acting public information officer for the Arlington County Public Health Division, told ARLnow in an email.
“As quantities are limited, [the vaccine] may not be widely available to the general public until at least mid-2021,” he said.
As of this morning, 2,216 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Arlington County, according to Virginia Department of Health statistics. At the current vaccination rate — around 150 per day — it would take more than three years to vaccinate Arlington’s adult population. The county, meanwhile, saw 121 new coronavirus cases reported today.
Statewide, 116,247 doses of the vaccine have been administered.
Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged during a press conference on Wednesday that the state could be going faster. To that end, he announced a state goal of administering 25,000 vaccine doses a day in the coming weeks.
Virginia is planning for a weekly allocation of about 50,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines apiece, Hudson said. The actual amount received, however, depends on “when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured,” he said.
Arlington County is following the vaccine prioritization list that Northam outlined. The focus through the spring will be on people categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state authorities into Phases 1A, 1B and 1C.
The state is currently in Phase 1A, immunizing doctors, EMT workers, nurses, and those who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
A Virginia Hospital Center spokeswoman said its allotment of doses of the vaccine have been allocated to staff or an affiliated frontline health worker.
“The first wave of over 2,000 VHC physicians and employees are receiving their second dose of the vaccine this week,” she said. “The second wave of staff received their first dose in late December and will return for the boost in late January.”
The hospital downplayed reports that some members of the general public are being given the chance to receive excess vaccine doses that would otherwise go to waste.
Doctors affiliated with VHC were told that the hospital received excess dosage that would made available to the general public, and several people successfully scheduled appointments, a reader who wishes to remain anonymous told ARLnow. The reader was able to successfully make an appointment to get the vaccine, which was confirmed with a screenshot.
Maryanne Boster, director of corporate communications at VHC, affirmed Thursday afternoon that the hospital is following VDH guidelines for vaccine distribution.
“The scheduling system referenced is intended for healthcare providers and their staff,” she said in a statement. “Individuals accessed the site and scheduled appointments. We have since corrected the issue. Virginia Hospital Center continues to offer the vaccine to those who meet the criteria defined as the highest priority in Phase 1A and is committed to using all of our allotted vaccines.”
In Arlington, distribution will expand to 1B as supplies and resources increase, Hudson said.
Phase 1B includes those who are 75 years and older, as well as: firefighters, police officers, teachers, hazmat workers, grocery store workers, food processing plant workers, agriculture workers, mail carriers, and those who work in transit and corrections.
Teachers make this bracket because “they’re critical to getting schools open and getting people back to work,” Northam said.
It will take “well into the spring” to immunize Phases 1A and 1B, roughly 2 million people, he said.
Officials stressed the flexibility localities need to distribute the vaccine efficiently. Dr. Danny Avula, the head of Virginia’s COVID-19 distribution program, said the decision to move into Phase 1B is a local operational one.
For Phase 1B, the Commonwealth will publish online tools that Virginians can use to figure out where, when and how to get immunized, State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said.
“We believe we will be moving into this phase in short order,” he said.
More than 2,000 providers have registered with VDH to provide shots, and local healthcare systems, providers and employers are discussing setting up vaccination clinics, Oliver said.
Phase 1C includes people in other non-remote workers, as well as people who are 65 and older, another 2.5 million people, Northam said.