April 3, 2021: Over 4 million vaccine doses administered in Virginia so far; Phase1C opens in Blue Ridge Health District

  
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Today’s anonymous support comes from something we’ll call the Valley Research Center and thanks to a generous contribution that provides much of the bumper music you’re hearing on the program. This came in the form of a donation through the Zelle platform, and I am grateful for the support. 

On today’s show:

  • Blue Ridge Health District opens up Phase1C  

  • The latest from UVA Health System on the pandemic

  • Virginia’s vaccine coordinator provides an update on Johnson and Johnson supply, which may be affected by a mixing error 


On Thursday, the Blue Ridge Health District held another press briefing to explain how things would work as another phase of the vaccination schedule opens up. But first, policy and operations director Ryan McKay gave some context on recent history,

“It’s been really just over three months, maybe three and a half months, since the vaccination campaign began first with our health care systems in the health district and then in January when we began as a health district really vaccinating in earnest members of the community in Phase 1A,” McKay said. 

As of March 31, BRHD had administered 135,000 doses in the six localities under its jurisdiction, with nearly 50,000 fully vaccinated. 

“We do know that there is approximately 200,000 to 205,000 individuals 16 and above who technically will be eligible at some point to get vaccinated so we still have a ways to go,” McKay said. 

McKay said that a “significant increase” in doses was due to hit the district in April. A slide in the presentation listed about 14,620 first doses of both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines would be available the week of April 5. 

“I think our increase is a little bit more than we had anticipated,” McKay said. 

McKay said 4,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson would be administered on Friday and Monday at the former J.C. Penney location.

“So we’re beginning to see that significant increase that we need in order to move more quickly in the vaccination campaign,” McKay said. 

On Thursday, the Blue Ridge Health District opened up to Phase1C. Kathryn Goodman is the communication manager for BRHD. 

“We are opening up to Phase1C,” Goodman said. “We want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to schedule appointments and so the VAMS system has many appointments available over the next two months. There are plenty of appointments that we we want people to get in there and schedule.” 

Governor Ralph Northam said vaccinations will be open to everyone beginning on April 18, but for now, it’s the turn for Phase1C.

“The Blue Ridge Health District has officially launched today into Phase1C of our vaccine distribution,” Goodman said. “This includes everyone you can see here, everyone from restaurant workers to finance workers and other public figures, public works individuals who are really important to keep our community operating.” 

Indulge me for a moment as I peel pack the fourth wall a little. About half an hour before the briefing began, I got an email from the Centers for Disease Control saying it was my time to schedule an appointment. I pre-registered with the Virginia Department of Health a few weeks ago. I asked probably one of the most personal questions I’ve ever asked as a reporter.

“Sean Tubbs, you are on with the Blue Ridge Health district,” said Lachen Parks, Charlottesville’s marketing and social media coordinator.

“Something strange just happened,” I said. “I just got a notification from VAMS at 1:30 p.m. I am not in a priority category. I now have an appointment for tomorrow at Fashion Square Mall. How did that happen?”

“So, all of the appointments that we’re pulling right now are based off of prioritization on either Phase1A, 1B, or 1C, so it is likely that somehow in the information you shared you fell into one of those categories. Media do fall into phase 1C so if you indicated that as an option that would be why. But we haven’t sent it out to everybody just yet that’s preregistered.” 

Goodman said the Health District would be sending out notifications over the next week. 

“We are working weekends at this point so we will certainly send invitation out tomorrow and over the weekend so if individuals in 1C don’t hear from us by mid to late next week, they should email us or give us a call and we will help them schedule an appointment,” Goodman said. 

If you have not registered yet and you want a vaccine through the Health District, register now.  Phase 2 opens up on April 18. 

“That’s going to be way we know that individuals want to get vaccinated and how we would send you the invitation to create the account in VAMS and then to schedule the appointment,” McKay said.  (watch the BRHD briefing

The following day, the University of Virginia Health System held its weekly briefing for the press. Depending on supply, the Seminole Square Shopping Center is also ready to get shots in arms. Dr. Costi Sifri is the director of hospital epidemiology. 

“At full operation, we can vaccinate on the order of 14,000 to 15,000 people per week just at our Seminole Square location,” Dr. Sifri said. He added the influx of new Johnson and Johnson doses will allow that number to be realized. 

“We are hearing about and are anticipating increase allocations from federal sources so we are looking at expanding our days of operation at Seminole Square,” Dr. Sifri said. 

One of the issues with moving rapidly to mass vaccination has been uncertainties in the supply lines for vaccines. Dr. Sifri said it has so far been difficult to schedule appointments several weeks into the future not quite knowing what the supply will be. 

“It’s very difficult to do that two or three weeks from today because we don’t exactly know how much vaccine we’ll have on hand,” Dr. Sifri said. “However, I think we’re pretty confident at this point. We’re not 100 percent confident. But we’re pretty confident we’re going to be able to open up appointments that are going to occur later, several weeks, three or four weeks in the future compared to what we’ve been doing in the past. There were some weeks that we had no new first dose vaccines. The supply to us was zero for a week. I think we’re past that point and we can become a little more liberal and I think that will help everybody. It will help us with our planning and it will certainly help people to be able to get their vaccines scheduled.” 

Yesterday, the number of doses administered in the Commonwealth crossed the 4 million mark as reported by the Virginia Department of Health. The seven-day average is now 73,218 doses administered per day. 

“We’re reaching a point where 35 to 50 percent of individuals have at least some level if not a high level of immunity to COVID-19, so we’re making some progress,” said Dr. Sifri. “However that does mean we still have something on the order of half the population that remains susceptible to COVID infection and its serious consequences.” 

One of the big questions is whether enough people will get vaccinated quick enough to avoid another surge. The number of new cases reported each day is still quite high, with a seven-day average of 1,415 a day. Today the seven-day percent positivity continued its gradual climb and is at 6.4 percent. That metric was 5.7 percent a week ago.  Dr. Sifri said now is not the time to stop wearing masks and following all of the other mitigation steps. 

“I am concerned about a fourth wave,” Dr. Sifti. “There are places in the U.S. in Michigan around Detroit and the New York City area where we are seeing increased case counts and those have been trending up for the last three or four weeks so that is a concern. The second issue is that we’re seeing in Europe some significant increases in cases in different countries of Europe. I don’t think we should anticipate that spring is going to be a respite from this. It certainly wasn’t a respite last year where we saw a significant wave of infection that occurred in April and May of last year. There’s no reason to think that couldn’t occur now.”

On Friday, UVA President Jim Ryan announced that Final Exercises will be held in a modified manner on May 20. 

“All graduating students will have the opportunity to walk the Lawn and process to Scott Stadium for their ceremony,” Ryan wrote in a posting on the Major Events website. “Each graduate will be permitted two guests in Scott Stadium.”

Ryan said students who graduated from the Class of 2020 will also have an opportunity to walk the Lawn in a special ceremony on May 16. A year ago, none of these events were happening. 

Dr. Sifri said as long as mitigation measures are taken, he is okay with Final Exercises proceeding. 

“Which are going to be things like social distancing and wearing masks and limiting gathering sizes that we should be able to provide graduation and it should be a great experience,” Dr. Sifri said. “If the weather will allow,  graduations occur outside. They occur with close families that are together. If you limit the size of groups and have social distancing and can do things outdoors, which allow things like the virus to disperse. And finally, as much as possible, have people vaccinated.” 

I’m one of those people who is now vaccinated. Knowing I would be getting my dose a few hours after the UVA briefing, I asked what side effects might happen with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. 

“They’re actually not too bad,” Dr. Sifri said. “It’s going to be for the most part local pain and discomfort at the injection site and some fatigue and perhaps some low-grade fever for up tp several days afterward.”

As I record this, it’s been just over 24 hours. I woke up in the middle of night with chills, a few digestion issues, and fatigue. I’ve slept on and off today, but for the most part, I feel okay. Still reeling from the new information and wondering what this all means for our future. 

However, it’s important to not get too far ahead of ourselves. At the time I was getting my shot, Virginia vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula was giving his own briefing, and there may be an issue with further Johnson and Johnson supply making its way into the logistics chain. (Baltimore Sun article)

“We are waiting to hear the impact of the news from the Johnson and Johnson production plant up in Baltimore on Wednesday,” Dr. Avula said. “Fifteen million doses were sequestered as a result of poor mixing and so I think those doses will be completely taken offline which means that the future delivery schedule is a bit up in the air. It does appear that our doses that are coming next week will still be coming which is good news because that’s over 200,000 doses that we were expecting and that we had ordered and will be coming in next week. I don’t yet know what that will mean for future weeks but we are eagerly anticipating updates from the federal government about Johnson and Johnson’s production schedule.”

Dr. Avula said the goal is for Virginia to have 125,000 Johnson and Johnson doses per week. 

Beginning tomorrow, April 4, health districts across Virginia have permission to move into Phase 2.  That doesn’t necessarily mean people will get appointments right away.

“That means open eligibility, it does not mean open pods,” Dr. Avula said. “People won’t be showing up for walk-in pods but it does mean that people will be open to openly self-schedule into appointments regardless of any eligibility criteria.”

To be clear, Phase 2 will be open to everyone over the age of 16. Testing is still underway for vaccines in children.