(opinions) Blacksburg COVID-19

Scene from downtown Blacksburg during the COVID-19 outbreak, April 8, 2020.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, Gov. Ralph Northam authorized the New River Valley to expand vaccinations for COVID-19 to those aged 65 and over, as well as those aged 16 to 64 with qualifying health conditions.

The New River Health District is currently operating under Phase 1B of the vaccination distribution plan, which began on Jan. 11, including frontline essential workers, people aged 65 and over and people aged 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.

This is the order in which people who pre-register and make an appointment will be vaccinated, according to the New River Valley Health District’s website.

After a challenging start to the rollout of the vaccines in Virginia, state vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said during a Jan. 29 tele-press conference that the state is improving.

“There was a lot of frustration and negative press over our national statistics and where we stacked up against other states,” Avula said. “Largely that was around one particular metric: the percentage of doses administered, so the number of doses administered out of the total doses that have come to Virginia.”

According to Avula, Virginia was ranked 50 out of 50 states for vaccine distribution, but indicated the state had moved to 21st during his Jan. 29 press conference and is expected to continue to improve.

Part of the issue is the balance between supply and demand of the vaccine, since the number of people who want to be vaccinated is larger than the number of doses available.

“We're in that situation where we want to speed up (vaccinations), even though we know we'll have to hit a steady state of incoming doses per week,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, state secretary of health and human resources.

The Virginia Department of Health is also attempting to optimize the number of doses administered by encouraging vaccine providers to convert second doses of the vaccine into first doses.

“The first dose and second dose are the same dose of vaccine,” Avula said. “Up to this point we have been drawing down every first dose and then we've been also drawing down all of the second doses that are available. One of the challenges of that strategy is that it has created a lot of second dose inventory for different providers, that can’t actually be delivered until people are ready for their second dose, and have waited that full three or four weeks for their second dose.”

The state’s solution to this problem is to label second dose vaccines as the first doses so vaccines may be administered immediately.

Avula says that managing and tracking doses will be important in the coming weeks, and remains optimistic about Virginia’s vaccination plans.

“Really good news on all fronts, both the pace at which vaccination is happening and the capacity which continues to exist, and then the increase in vaccines coming to us this next week,” Avula said. “I think probably the only piece of bad news is that it's not a 100 percent increase, because we really need and could handle significantly more vaccines at this point, given the infrastructure that's been built up around the state. I think we’re looking at late March to get through all of (Phase) 1B.”

The New River Health District is currently receiving 2,000 doses a week, compared to 80,000 Virginians in Phase 1B who are eligible, according to its website.

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