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Virginia hospitals start receiving coronavirus vaccine doses

‘These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country’

Gov. Ralph Northam was joined by Kelly Sweet, PharmD, MSHA, Director of Pharmacy for the Bon Secours Health System on Dec. 14, 2020 as they received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses. (Governor's office)

RICHMOND, Va. – Some Virginia health systems on Monday began receiving limited, initial doses of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine, which will be administered to their workers.

Julian Walker, a spokesman for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Administration, confirmed at least two health systems - one in Hampton Roads and one in Richmond - had received shipments, and he said others were expecting them Tuesday or Wednesday.

Walker did not identify the health systems, but Norfolk-based Sentara Healthcare announced it had received its first shipment of 11,700 doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech. Officials said the doses arrived early Monday morning by FedEx.

“We are super excited. This is a significant opportunity,” Mary Morin, Sentara’s vice president of clinical effectiveness, said on a call with reporters.

Gov. Ralph Northam welcomed one of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a Bon Secours hospital in Richmond on Monday.

“These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Northam. “With this remarkable medical achievement, we are beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Yet even in this moment of celebration, we must remember that this is the first step in a months-long process to receive, distribute, and administer the vaccine as it becomes available. I ask everyone to stay vigilant, take care of each other, and continue following the public health guidelines as we work to vaccinate Virginians in a safe, efficient, equitable manner.”

While Monday marked the kickoff of what’s expected to be the nation’s biggest-ever vaccination push, supplies will be limited for months to come. Although the U.S. hopes for enough of both vaccines together to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the month, there won’t be enough for the average person to get a shot until spring.

Sentara officials said they were working Monday to distribute the doses across its system and expected to begin offering employee vaccinations Wednesday. Getting the shot will be voluntary for Sentara’s workers, though Morin said the majority of employees who responded to an interest survey indicated they wished to receive it.

The Virginia Department of Health announced earlier this month that the state’s first shipment was expected to include 72,150 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration late Friday.

Virginia’s initial doses are being distributed to health care systems with capacity for the ultracold storage the vaccine requires and will be administered to health care workers, officials have said. Health care personnel that directly care for COVID-19 patients were to receive top priority.

Sentara said its initial priority group would include emergency department staff, ICUs, COVID patient units, respiratory unit staff and other staff who provide services in those areas, such as food service workers.

Subsequent weekly shipments are expected to begin after the initial shipment and will be divided among health care personnel and long-term care facility residents, the health department has said.

Later this week, the FDA will decide whether to green-light the world’s second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna Inc.

If that vaccine also secures approval, the health department has said Virginia would expected to receive enough doses by the year’s end to begin inoculating nearly all of its health care workers and long-term care facility residents.

Monday’s shipments came as the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 300,000. Over 4,400 deaths have been recorded in Virginia, according to the health department.

Also Monday, the state’s newest restrictions to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus took effect. Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the new rules, which include a stricter mask mandate, a 10-person limit on gatherings and a curfew that will requires most Virginians to stay at home between midnight and 5 a.m.

About the Authors:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.