Northam: Teachers, Bus Drivers Among Essential Workers Next in Line for COVID-19 Vaccine

As Virginia continues to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare professionals and workers in long-term care facilities, Gov. Ralph Northam provided some clarity regarding the next phase of the state’s vaccination plan during a press conference yesterday (Wednesday).

Phase 1B, the next group to be prioritized for innoculations, will focus on essential workers, people who are at high risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, and people who are unable to do their jobs remotely, Northam said.

The largest segment of that group will be teachers, childcare workers, and other school employees. There are roughly 285,000 teachers and childcare workers in Virginia, according to Northam’s presentation.

“They’re high on the list of essential workers, because teachers are critical to getting schools back open, and that’s critical to people getting back to work and literally getting back to normal,” Northam said. “Opening schools doesn’t depend on vaccinating teachers, but that sure will make it a lot easier.”

Phase 1B will also include first responders; grocery, agriculture, and food processing plant workers; manufacturing workers; postal workers; and bus drivers and other transit workers as well as those who are 75 and older.

Virginia is currently in Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which is limited to healthcare workers and workers in long-term care facilities.

Northam did not provide details on when to expect the state to advance to the next phase, but he hopes the Commonwealth will eventually have the supplies to deliver 25,000 doses per day. Right now, Virginia is getting about 110,000 doses a week, or roughly 14,000 doses per day.

With a population of 8.5 million people, Virginia needs to administer 17 million shots total since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been authorized for distribution both require two doses. That means the state will need to double its distribution rate in order to vaccinate everyone by the end of this year, Northam says.

To ensure that no doses are wasted, Northam says healthcare providers, health departments, hospitals, and any other organizations responsible for administering the vaccine must utilize their entire supply, or else risk getting fewer doses in subsequent shipments.

“You use it or you lose it,” the governor said. “So, I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused.”

Virginia Department of Health data shows that, as of Jan. 6, Fairfax County has administered 15,391 COVID-19 vaccine doses, more than any other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth.

Demand has “remained high” among healthcare workers since the Fairfax County Health Department received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 23, according to Tina Dale, the senior communications specialist for the county health department.

Dale says the health department has made the vaccine available by appointment at five different dispensing sites around the county. The locations have not been made public to avoid drawing visitors who are not eligible to be vaccinated yet.

“We are excited by the continued interest we have seen from people who fall into the other priority groups and continue to get questions when others can begin receiving vaccine,” Dale said. “When the Virginia Department of Health expands vaccine availability to other priority groups, vaccine could be available in a variety of ways, including healthcare providers, pharmacies and local health departments.”

In Virginia, CVS and Walgreens are facilitating the distribution of the vaccine to people who live in nursing homes as well as healthcare providers.

At a virtual town hall for the City of Falls Church with State Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th), Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd) acknowledged that the pace and clarity of the vaccine rollout has been frustrating for some community members.

“I don’t think anything is more important than deploying the vaccine as rapidly as humanly possible,” Simon said. “Those of you looking for more information and transparency, I heard you. Those details are coming out soon.”

Saslaw expressed hope that Virginia will reach Phase 1B before February.

“We’re a little behind right now on where we should be, but we’re hoping to catch up quickly,” Saslaw said.

Jo DeVoe contributed to this report.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department/Twitter

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