All Virginians 16 years old and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as of Sunday.
“Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a press release. “With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many parts of Virginia and across the country, it is important that everyone has an opportunity to make a vaccination appointment. If you are over 16 and want to get the safe, effective, and free vaccine, please make a plan to get your shot. The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”
Virginians were startled Monday morning by an emergency alert on their cellphones. The system is normally used to announce major emergencies and Amber alerts, but the Monday alert was just an announcement of the expanded vaccine eligibility. The alert caused minor Twitter controversy.
In January, Virginia struggled to distribute vaccines to priority groups, earning criticism from Republican legislators. Democrats blamed the Trump administration for a botched roll out. In February, the Virginia Department of Health launched a centralized vaccine registration website. According to Northam’s Friday press release, over 5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Virginia, half of Virginia adults have received at least one dose, and one in five Virginians have received the full vaccination.
In the briefing, Northam also provided an update on COVID-19 in Virginia.
“This has been a very tough year for everyone, and Virginians have done an outstanding job following the guidelines to keep our cases and deaths lower than almost all other states in this country,” Northam said.
“After dropping steeply earlier this year, our daily case counts have been on a relative plateau for the past month or so. I’m glad to say we had fewer than 1,000 new cases reported from yesterday, 978 to be exact. And our percent positivity is down to 6.1 percent,” he said.
Later, Northam added, “I just want to remind people on a somber note: this Commonwealth has lost over 10,000 Virginians to COVID-19. The variants which we have talked about, which are more contagious, are here in Virginia as well. So please, this is no time for Virginia to let down our guard.”
Northam also announced that he is planning future changes to COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing more competitors in cross country sporting events. He said he will change performing arts events to have larger capacity as well.
WRIC reporter Jackie DeFusco asked Northam for a timeline for Virginia to reach COVID-19 herd immunity.
“We’re getting closer every day and the more adults that will come into sites like this and be vaccinated, the sooner we’ll get there,” he said. “We have 8.5 million Virginians. Between two and 2.5 million of those are children. So, if you do the math and say we need to get 70 to 75 percent, we have to have our children vaccinated as well.”
Northam said he’s waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to distribute the vaccine to children.
“I anticipate hopefully hearing from the FDA this summer. We can start 12 and above, and then other trials will be announced and approved by the FDA hopefully after that time. So, we’re looking at least this fall and winter,” he said. “Certainly, by the beginning of 2022 we’ll be much close to herd immunity.”
Northam said, “We don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the reason that we need people to get vaccinated is because we’ll never get to herd immunity if we don’t get shots in arms.”
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