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Major effort underway at VDH to prepare for COVID vaccine distribution

A coronavirus vaccine unit at the Virginia Department of Health is tasked with ensuring that the state will be ready to fairly distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

VIRGINIA, USA — We’re getting closer to obtaining an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

This week’s big announcement from Pfizer marks a new milestone. With early data showing its vaccine is 90 percent effective, health officials at VDH are ramping up their preparedness plans.

Right now, there’s a major effort underway at the Virginia Department of Health to figure out how to distribute it and who will get it first.

A VDH COVID vaccine unit is tasked with ensuring equitable distribution of the vaccine across Virginia when it becomes available.

Christy Gray, the Director of Immunization at VDH, is leading the effort.

“A vaccine campaign like this is unprecedented in our history in trying to vaccinate the number of people in the amount of time that we want to do it,” said Gray.

VDH is actively enrolling hospitals and other facilities to administer the vaccine, figuring out the needs and population at each facility. It’s also ramping up the number of staff at local health department offices across the Commonwealth and hiring more clinical staff for mass vaccine clinics.

While there are several scenarios regarding distribution, Gray said specific plans are not set in stone. VDH is waiting for more data from the CDC on the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine once it becomes available. While health officials have preliminary data, more is needed to make decisions about who will get the vaccine first.

“The likelihood is those that are at highest risk of infection and highest risk of severity of infection,” said Gray.

“That is likely to be your high-risk health care workers and maybe those who live in older, congregated settings. We have our plan and our plan includes several scenarios, so we wouldn’t want to lock ourselves into a specific decision until we have the allocation of the vaccines and more of the variables we might wanna take into consideration.”

Until then, Gray said VDH’s goal is to be ready with the necessary staff and medical equipment to equitably distribute the highly-anticipated vaccine.

In the meantime, she encourages people to get the flu shot. Gray said the number of people who received the flu vaccine is up 30 percent compared to last year.

“It is important that we're reducing the number of influenza symptomatic people in Virginia,” said Gray. “We wanna relieve the health systems, protect ourselves, and protect our community.”

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