Reporting lags, complicated logistics and data entry errors in COVID-19 vaccine distribution have frustrated health officials trying to beat back a virus that has killed almost 6,500 Virginians. But on Monday, new data from the Virginia Department of Health showed a prominent shift that has launched the state past most of the U.S. for supply used: Nearly 64% of available vaccines have been administered.
That translates to 843,230 total shots given, which is 11 times more than a month earlier. The state began the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines six weeks ago.
More than 143,000 vaccinations were reported from Saturday to Monday, and the state is averaging at least 33,675 doses administered per day. Last Wednesday, the number of shots given peaked at almost 50,000 — the next goal that Gov. Ralph Northam has set for daily vaccinations.
Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, has said a 50,000-dose average is necessary for Virginia to reach herd immunity and that the infrastructure to handle that capacity is in place. A limitation has been the recent decrease in supply, which is set to change this week with an additional shipment of 18,000 vaccines.
Now, the number of vaccines allotted to each local health district is determined by population sizes rather than the number of doses requested. But as Virginia pulls ahead in speeding up distribution, equity concerns remain high.
More than 400,000 vaccinations, or roughly 49%, do not have race and ethnicity recorded, even as Black and Latino patients have accounted for 50% of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Less than 27% of vaccinations have been for people age 70 and older, a group that has been identified as one of the most at-risk populations. More than 75% of Virginia’s coronavirus deaths have been among that age group.
Older residents with limited internet access have reported struggling with the online process of signing up for a vaccine. Information indicating whether an individual is chosen for a vaccination appointment comes through email or phone calls.
But until a person is told they can make an appointment, there’s no confirmation sent on whether the interest form was received, creating uncertainty and leaving many with one option: wait.
Amy Popovich, nurse manager for the Richmond and Henrico County health districts, said officials are working to change that to reduce confusion — especially since the VDH has advised against calling, because most phone lines are overrun.
“We are looking into systems that could send out automatic receipts and email updates,” Popovich said at a media briefing Monday. “We’ve had to build these registration and communication systems from scratch at the local level.”
The demand has overwhelmed local health departments, with Richmond and Henrico alone reporting at least 63,000 people ages 65 and older filling out forms since the launch in mid-January.
More than 15,200 doses were given last week by Richmond and Henrico. An event Saturday at Richmond Raceway yielded almost 5,000 vaccinations, the largest clinic yet for the localities. Prior to that, the health districts and regional events were averaging more than 1,000 doses per clinic.
Richmond and Henrico have the capacity to vaccinate at least 25,000 people per week, according to Popovich, but the execution is dependent on supply available.
Jackie Lawrence, health equity director for local VDH, said the three main prioritization factors for Richmond and Henrico are age; then race and ethnicity; and finally, who signed up first.
But while the health districts are prioritizing Black and Latino residents ages 75 and older — since those residents represent a significant percentage of cases in the two localities — the process for who receives a vaccine varies, Popovich said. That variability means different outcomes depending on where people live, even if the vaccination clinic is at the same place, like it was at Richmond Raceway.
In addition, there are the difficulties associated with vaccinating thousands and incurring up to 2½-hour waits among a population with limited mobility access and higher rates of underlying medical conditions.
Popovich said Monday that local health officials are always trying to improve accessibility. She mentioned that an exit survey was provided to older residents who attended Saturday’s vaccination clinic at the raceway. The survey results were not available Monday.
By the numbers
On Sunday and Monday, Virginia recorded fewer than 3,000 new cases each day, the lowest in more than a month. However, a disclaimer on the VDH’s website noted that upgrades in the agency’s surveillance system had affected the data for the previous two days, and will result in a decline of additional infections shown on the online dashboard.
Numbers have been steadily declining in the past week after a slight uptick on Jan. 25 and the largest single-day increase — of nearly 10,000 — reported on Jan. 17.
The total caseload on Monday was 507,640.
Current COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to trend downward, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association’s online dashboard, which is the most accurate representation of hospitalizations. On Friday, the state’s hospitals had 2,691 COVID-19 patients. By Monday, that figure had dropped to 2,446 hospitalizations, a decrease of 245 patients.
The total number of COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized and discharged in Virginia is more than 40,500.
Deaths from COVID-19 reached 6,474 on Monday. January saw 1,442 deaths reported, the most seen in Virginia in a single month. That’s roughly 47 deaths per day and nearly two deaths per hour.
From Friday to Monday, Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico saw an increase of 1,499 cases, 14 hospitalizations and nine deaths.
The area has had a total of 59,045 cases, 2,396 hospitalizations and 819 deaths.
Richmond has had a total of 12,862 cases, 627 hospitalizations and 132 deaths.
The Chesterfield Health District, which consists of Chesterfield, Powhatan County and Colonial Heights, has had 21,688 cases, 775 hospitalizations and 242 deaths.
Henrico has had 18,624 cases, 779 hospitalizations and 344 deaths. Hanover has had 5,871 cases, 215 hospitalizations and 101 deaths.