Northam announces expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia officials announced changes Thursday that significantly expand the pool of people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine as they also outlined plans for mass-vaccination clinics to speed up the pace of inoculations.
Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference in Richmond that the state would follow new federal guidance from President Donald Trump’s administration that urged states to immediately start vaccinating people who had previously been lower down the priority list. Newly included in what’s called Phase 1b of the state’s distribution plan are people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems that make them more vulnerable to the virus.
“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine. That’s a major logistical effort, and it is not going to happen overnight,” said Northam, who also used the news conference to announce new guidance aimed at getting more public schools open for in-person instruction.
Demand for the vaccine is still expected to outpace supply, so not everyone newly eligible will be able to get a shot immediately. The state is currently receiving about 110,000 doses per week, Northam said.
Dr. Danny Avula, who was recently tapped by the governor to direct the state’s vaccine rollout efforts, said Virginia would be introducing fixed-site mass vaccination centers that would be open six or seven days a week to help meet the eventual goal of vaccinating 50,000 people a day.
Residents can expect “movement” on mass-vaccinations sites as soon as next week, he said, adding that more vaccines will also be available in the coming weeks through private providers and pharmacies.
Only some parts of the state in northern Virginia, southwest Virginia and the Eastern Shore have moved into phase 1b so far. Health districts in the rest of Virginia are still working to vaccinate the health care workers and long-term care facility residents in 1a. But Northam said all health districts would be there “by the end of the month” and asked for patience as the state works through the complicated logistics.
“We need people to get this vaccine. It is our only way out of this pandemic,” he said.
On schools, Northam said the state’s education department was issuing new guidelines on restarting in-person learning. The governor said the state’s new policy is: “schools need to be open, and here are the ways to do that safely.”
The guidelines are not mandates and individual school districts will still have final say in how they operate. Virginia currently has a patchwork approach, with some public and private schools offering in-person learning while others offer only virtual school.
Northam also said that he was looking at eventually adjusting school calendars so that schools operate year-round, instead of taking lengthy summer breaks.
Officials also addressed concerns about possible civil unrest in the capital city over the weekend or in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Northam said public safety officials were well prepared to prevent any violence and the Virginia National Guard would be available to provide support if necessary.
“If you come here and act out, Virginia will be ready,” Northam said.