Virginia plans to spend $22 million in federal emergency aid this year to prepare for its COVID-19 mass vaccination campaign, an unprecedented effort ahead of the approval of a vaccine.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported last week that the state is actively enlisting facilities and organizations to help with vaccine distribution, particularly for high-priority groups, as part of a vaccination plan submitted to the federal government earlier this month.
It’s unclear when a vaccine will be ready, but nearly a dozen companies are in the midst of large-scale clinical trials. At least five of those vaccines are financially backed by the U.S. government, which has guaranteed free doses to all Americans in phases.
Once federal regulatory agencies approve a vaccine, Virginia and other states should expect to receive doses within days.
“We look forward to the day that a safe vaccine for COVID-19 is available for public use, so that we can get closer to living normal lives,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement.
“We want to be ready to help Virginians get that vaccine as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible. This funding will support the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine preparations, so distribution will go more smoothly when a vaccine becomes available. I encourage Virginians to get this vaccine when it is available — that is our best way to end this pandemic.”
The $22 million in CARES Act funding will pay for costs incurred by the Virginia Department of Health to administer the vaccine. Local health districts will need an additional $71 million as part of the statewide effort, which is ultimately expected to cost $120 million.
The spending will include $3.2 million in equipment to transport the vaccine, like freezers, and warehousing costs; $3.4 million in kits for facilities administering the vaccine that will include needles, alcohol pads and bandages; $400,000 in additional staff at the VDH; and $3 million for a public communications campaign around the vaccine.
The federal government will decide who will be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine, but priority groups will likely include elderly people living in congregate settings and health care workers. Other essential workers, like people working in food distribution, transportation and child care, also might be included.
Virginia’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, COVIDWISE, will be updated next month to reflect new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC this week updated its definition for “close contact” as someone who has spent a cumulative 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who was infectious over a 24-hour period. Previously, the CDC said exposure would have to go on for 15 consecutive minutes to create a high risk for infection.
The CDC advises “close contacts” to self-isolate, monitor their symptoms and seek testing if needed.
The state’s COVIDWISE app, which laid out more strict parameters than the CDC, currently defines exposure as 15 cumulative minutes over a 14-day period.
Jeff Stover, a VDH official working on the app, said the app will be updated to comply with the CDC’s new criteria, only notifying people if they were exposed to someone with a positive test for 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.
Stover said the update is expected in mid-November.
Also in mid-November, the state is planning to transition its COVIDWISE server to the National Key Server, allowing Virginians to receive notifications if they are exposed while in other states using similar apps developed by Apple and Google.
The move will pave the way for new technology developed by Apple to build COVIDWISE into the operating systems of all iPhones and send push notifications to users, alerting them that they can switch it on. Stover said the state hopes to be ready to launch the new technology by the end of the year.