Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

It’s a ‘difficult road’ for state to reach Biden vaccine goal

President wants 70% of adults to have at least 1 dose by July 4

- BY SABRINA MORENO

In its newest vaccinatio­n target to reduce coronaviru­s case counts even further, the Biden administra­tion is aiming to vaccinate 70% of adults with at least one dose in the U.S. by July 4.

Is that goal likely to happen in Virginia within the same time frame?

The short answer: maybe. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 61.6% of Virginians in the 18-and-up age group, or 4.1 million people, have already received a shot. To reach 70%, the state would need to vaccinate 560,889 in the next two months.

Virginia has vaccinated at least 800,000 adults in less than three weeks. If the same pace were to continue, the state would technicall­y reach Biden’s national goal within a month.

But it’s not that simple. Like the rest of the country, Virginia is facing a steep drop-off in demand despite the flood of doses on hand. Mass vaccinatio­n sites at raceways and arenas once filled with hundreds of cars lining up for shots

are morphing into walkin clinics because there aren’t enough slots being filled to meet the supply.

In the past month, the state went from averaging an all-time high of 84,783 daily doses over a 7-day period to 66,337 this week. Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinato­r, predicts an even larger dip is coming.

“It will clearly be a difficult road ahead to get people vaccinated. It’s still happening in large amounts, right?” Avula said in an interview, noting that more than 400,000 doses are being administer­ed weekly.

Avula hesitated to provide a definitive timeline on Thursday regarding when Virginia could reach the 70% mark since “the reality is that things have shifted so quickly.”

In Richmond and its surroundin­g counties of Chesterfie­ld, Henrico and Hanover, demand quickly waned in the last month after having among the highest need in March.

Northern Virginia was needing more doses a week-and-a-half ago, Avula said. The next day there was a 20% drop off, a trend that’s made it difficult to predict where and when localities will hit a wall in demand.

And even though the state has consistent­ly been near the top 10 in the country when it comes to percent of population vaccinated, the new federal attempt to match supply with demand — where if states don’t use that week’s full allocation, the excess will be contribute­d to a federal pool available to other states needing more doses — will affect Virginia.

Avula estimates the change could cut the state’s vaccine allocation in half.

“Not only because we have a lot of inventory in circulatio­n currently but also because, we’re not going to need the full amount of our allocation,” Avula said.

This means that while the state is receiving the same amount of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and a jump to 100,000 Johnson & Johnson doses, the supply won’t matter without significan­t demand.

Next week, there could be a slight uptick if federal regulators expand the Pfizer vaccine’s emergency use authorizat­ion to include kids ages 12 and up.

What comes next?

Most state-run vaccinatio­n clinics are closing by the end of May, with more targeted events replacing them to prioritize the hardest-to-reach population­s and residents who, for a wide range of reasons, have yet to be vaccinated.

And these clinics are significan­tly smaller,

Avula said, which means the output will not be the same as major sites administer­ing 5,000 doses per day. At a recent mobile clinic at a pet food processing plant, where the majority of workers do not speak English — a barrier that has continuall­y clouded the registrati­on process — only 65 people were vaccinated.

“That’s pretty awesome because those are 65 folks that probably would not have gotten vaccinated otherwise, but I share that to illustrate that this is going to be a very different pace with a different kind of effort-to-reward ratio than we’ve seen over the last few months.”

Vaccinatio­n progress has varied among states. While Virginia nears 70% of its adult population receiving a shot, others like West Virginia are hovering at around 45%.

In one of the more wellknown strategies to address the struggle in filling appointmen­ts, West Virginia has begun offering $100 savings bonds to 16to-35 year-olds who get a vaccine. New Jersey is exchanging a vaccine shot for a beer. Private sector entities like Kroger are offering a one-time stipend to employees who receive a dose.

As the possibilit­y of building resistance to the virus by vaccinatin­g as many people as possible slips alongside demand, Avula said the state has considered the idea of cash incentives.

“I think we want to get a little bit further into this vaccinatio­n effort, see what kind of progress we’re making based on the innate incentive to get vaccinated,” Avula said.

Across Virginia, localities are also experienci­ng varied levels of success. As of Friday, the Virginia Department of Health site showed Goochland County having nearly

60% of its population vaccinated with at least one dose while an hour away in Prince George, the locality is at 28%.

The majority of cities and counties south of Richmond are at 40% or less.

Avula said VDH data doesn’t account for how a large number of Virginians in the border counties got vaccinated in another state, which, along with the 350,000 federal doses administer­ed through federal agencies like the military or the VA hospital system, aren’t included in the vaccinatio­n rate for parts of Southwest Virginia.

Still, demand in rural districts fell nearly a month ago before the rest of the state began witnessing similar drops, Avula said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which has tracked vaccine trends, reported a medley of reasons for why: for Black adults, there’s difficulty in accessing a dose; hesitancy among white evangelica­ls and Republican­s, belief the seriousnes­s of COVID has been exaggerate­d; and lack of informatio­n.

If there are organizati­ons who want to host vaccinatio­n efforts, Avula urged residents to let VDH know.

“We can make that happen within a week,” he said. “There really is no shortage of vaccine at this point, so if you’re connected to a network where bringing vaccines in would increase the possibilit­ies of getting more people vaccinated, we’re all about it.”

 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Jeffrey Sayles administer­ed a COVID-19 vaccine to a man at the Islamic Center of Henrico & Masjid Al-Falah in April.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH Jeffrey Sayles administer­ed a COVID-19 vaccine to a man at the Islamic Center of Henrico & Masjid Al-Falah in April.

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