A bill to help Virginia speed up its mass vaccination effort by expanding who is allowed to inoculate citizens and where those injections can occur is being pushed by a bipartisan group of state Senators.
Flanked by various medical professionals, Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), Todd Pillion (R-Washington), Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) held a news conference to discuss Senate Bill 1445 in Richmond on Thursday.
“Basically, we feel very strongly that there is a lot the legislature can do as a separate body to help Virginia get this job done,” Dunnavant said.
The bill does a multitude of things to help accelerate the vaccination process.
First, the measure calls on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to establish a process for any healthcare professionals in Virginia who are qualified and available to volunteer for administering COVID-19 vaccines to citizens. People included are those within VDH professions, emergency medical service workers and even students in accredited medical schools.
All volunteers would need a license, registration, or certification that is in good standing within the last five years, and medical students must have good academic standing with their institution and be properly trained on administering vaccines, according to the bill.
Furthermore, volunteers will not have to complete the full training and orientation for the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), but must still participate in a training program on intramuscular injection best practices and relevant information, such as side effects.
Because the volunteers are likely to have less experience at giving vaccinations, the bill comes with a civil immunity provision except for gross negligence.
“So, those doctors that may be outside their ordinary practice and would have liability concerns, maybe they’re not insured, this would give them immunity, at least from my perspective as a trial attorney,” Petersen said. “That’s a huge barrier to getting people out and getting this done.”
Another important aspect of the legislation allows entities to volunteer as sites where inoculations can occur instead of just at hospitals, local health departments, pharmacies and designated mass vaccination locations.
Medical care facilities, businesses, corporations, public and private colleges and universities as well as community organizations throughout the state can volunteer their space to be a vaccination center with joint approval by VDH and the state health commissioner, according to the bill.
SB 1445 also outlines a way for Virginia’s universities to assist the VDH and local health departments in collecting and processing data of vaccinations and where those are taking place across the Commonwealth.
The bill comes with an emergency enactment clause that enables the governor to sign it into law immediately, but requires a supermajority or 80 percent of lawmakers to vote yes in each chamber.
For the Senate that should not be too hard since all 39 members have already signed onto the measure as co-sponsors.
Shortly before the press conference Thursday morning, the measure was passed unanimously (Y-14 N-0) out of the Senate Committee on Education and Health, and can now be considered on the floor.
Petersen told The Virginia Star that the group has the ability to bypass the normal procedures for bills before the entire body and go straight to a passage vote, which means the House of Delegates could have the measure by next week.
This push for accelerated vaccinations comes as Virginia is struggling to pace distributed doses versus administered shots. According to the VDH vaccine dashboard, as of Thursday, the state has distributed 959,550 doses, but only administered 399,317 – a difference of over half a million.
“This is very personal to me, it’s very personal to all the Senators,” Pillion said. “We’ve already lost one Senator to COVID and we can’t wait any longer. We have to get these vaccines in the arms of our Commonwealth.”
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