Northern Virginia residents age 65 and over or younger residents with co-morbidities are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday.
Northam's announcement brings Virginia into line with new guidelines issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services earlier this week. Previously, only residents age 75 and older -- along with front-line essential workers -- were eligible during Phase 1B of the state's vaccination plan.
No details were announced regarding how the newly eligible residents would register for vaccine appointments. Many local health departments, including Prince William, have started registering residents aged 75 and older.
Dr. Danny Avula, who is leading Virginia's vaccination efforts, said the state is looking for large sites where mass vaccinations can be administered six or seven days a week. While the sites would initially be staffed by local health department and health-care personnel, as well as members of the state's medical reserve corps, he said the goal eventually would be to have them staffed by members of the Virginia National Guard and a contracted force of vaccinators.
Avula said more specifics could be announced as soon as next week.
To date, Virginia has received 943,000 doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and has administered about 242,000 doses, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. The state is currently administering an average of about 12,000 doses a day, but that's less than half of Northam's short-term goal of 25,000 doses a day. The long-term goal is 50,000 doses a day.
Both of the vaccines require recipients to receive two doses -- three or four weeks apart -- to be fully effective.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us," Northam said at a news conference in Richmond. "This is a major logistical effort, and it's not going to happen overnight. Everyone needs to be patient."
Northam said the state's large health-care systems will be extremely helpful in ramping up vaccinations. He noted that Inova Health System in Northern Virginia has already administered 35,000 doses of vaccines.
“They’re going to be a great help in the coming weeks as we speed up our pace in vaccinations," he added.
Northam said he is pleased with the rollout to date, noting that only a few states -- most larger than Virginia -- have administered more doses than Virginia has. "We're going to meet our goal, just as soon as we can."
Northam, who at times has been highly critical of the federal government's response to the pandemic, praised the Health and Human Services Department for pledging an additional $3 billion toward vaccination efforts.
“A better federal partnership and support will help all the states get this done faster,” he added.