Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has appointed Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments, to lead the Commonwealth’s ongoing COVID-19 vaccination program.
Northam made the announcement during a coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, the first time he has provided updates on the virus to the public in the new year.
“[Dr. Avula] will be our field general, coordinating work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals and private providers,” Northam said. “He will be working hand in glove with our team, especially our health commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, Dr. Laurie Forlano, Dr. Lilian Peake, Christy Gray and everyone at the Virginia Department of Health.”
The governor also said that as more doses of the vaccines arrive in Virginia, the state national guard will assist with administering those vaccinations and Avula will help coordinate that effort.
Speaking very briefly, Avula said he was excited for the opportunity and hoped to help the VDH build more bridges between COVID-related work happening at the local and state levels.
Avula’s newest job is only a temporary position and he will not be permanently leaving the Richmond and Henrico health departments.
During the press conference, the governor also outlined expectations and goals for the number of vaccine doses that should be administered per day. The immediate goal is to reach 14,000 vaccinations per day, which is based on Virginia’s current weekly vaccine allotment of about 110,000 doses, according to Northam.
The next goal is 25,000 vaccinations per day, but that all depends on manufacturing ramping up and more vaccine supplies being distributed to states over time, Northam said.
Furthermore, in what was seemingly a response to the state’s vaccination efforts starting off slowly and the number of doses administered lagging behind distribution, Northam said that Virginia will be faster in giving vaccinations.
“That starts with a simple message to healthcare providers, health departments, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies everywhere: you use it or you lose it,” the governor said. “So I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms. When you have vials, give out shots until they are gone. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused.”
Also discussed by Northam at the briefing was the next group of Virginians expected to receive the vaccines. Currently, priority group 1a – front-line healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff – are receiving vaccinations.
The next set of Virginians, categorized as group 1b, to be vaccinated under the state’s plan is front-line essential workers in grocery stores, public transit, manufacturing, postal services, among others as well as K-12 teachers, first responders, people living in correctional facilities. People over the age of 75 also fall into that group.
Northam said it will take well into the spring time to get all of those two groups, roughly 2 million people, the required two doses of vaccines. But, group 1b is expected to start receiving vaccinations by the end of January.
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