Some local health departments across Virginia will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines next week for limited portions of the general public as the state begins to move into its second phase of vaccine distribution.
The Virginia Department of Health said in a news release Friday that 11 local health districts expect to begin gradually adding vaccination opportunities for people who fall into what's called Phase 1b of the state's distribution plan, a group that includes people over age 75, incarcerated people and certain types of workers. All of the state is expected to move to Phase 1b before the end of January, the news release said.
“We are excited to begin vaccinating more people as we continue to work to put this pandemic behind us,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said in a statement. “The number of calls to our VDH hotline and to our local health departments asking about vaccines is evidence that people want this protection. Our goal is to get shots into arms as quickly as possible."
In addition to people over 75, the 1b category covers people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters or migrant labor camps, as well as “frontline essential workers.” The state defines that group as people in jobs critical to the functioning of society who are at substantially higher risk of exposure to the virus. Included are police, childcare workers and teachers, grocery store workers and mail carriers. More guidance is available online.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam, said Virginia elected officials would also be included in 1b.
“Elected officials are essential to the functioning of government, and many are required to regularly interact with the public as part of their job. Those who have high-risk medical conditions will be initially prioritized; lower-risk elected officials will be at the end of group 1b," she wrote in an email.
In the current phase, 1a, only health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities have been eligible to receive a dose.
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Earlier this week, Northam pledged that the state would be moving more quickly to distribute the vaccines and would implement a “use it or lose it” policy, saying health systems that don’t move fast enough to get shots into arms will receive fewer doses in future distribution rounds.
Data from the health department show Virginia has received nearly 482,000 doses of the vaccine so far and nearly 149,000 have been administered.
The state said the following health districts will be moving into phase 1b: Alexandria, Arlington, Cumberland Plateau, Fairfax, Lenowisco, Lord Fairfax, Loudoun, Mount Rogers, New River, Prince William and Roanoke County/Allegheny.
Marian Hunter, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said local health districts should have more information about vaccine availability on their websites by Monday. An interactive map showing which health district is in what distribution phase will also be available next week on the state health department website, she said.