RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is urging hospital systems to move quickly to administer coronavirus vaccines, saying the state will now implement a "use it or lose it” policy designed to speed up distribution of the shots.
“No one wants to see any supply sitting unused," Northam said at a news conference Wednesday, saying health systems that don't move fast enough will receive fewer doses in future distribution rounds.
With frustration rising over the sluggish rollout of the vaccine, Northam is one of many state leaders and other politicians around the U.S. who are turning up the pressure to get shots in arms more quickly. The governor, a Democrat, has been criticized by Republicans for the pace of vaccinations in the state.
“There’s no question we need to speed the process up,” Northam said.
Northam also named a new official responsible for coordinating the the state's coronavirus vaccination drive, and he announced details for the first time about who will be included in the state's second and third tier of vaccine priorities.
Northam said Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments, will be in charge of the state's vaccine push.
“He will be our field general coordinating work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals and private providers,” Northam said of Avula.
The governor also announced that Virginia had finalized its plans for who would be eligible to receive the vaccine in the next two phases of distribution, referred to as 1B and 1C.
In the current phase, 1A, only health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are eligible to receive a dose.
Northam announced about 1.2 million people will be eligible for the vaccine in phase 1B, a group that will include frontline essential workers such as police, grocery workers, and teachers, along with people 75 and older and people living in correctional facilities.
In phase 1C, another 2.5 million Virginians who are considered frontline essential workers will be eligible for vaccinations. Workers in those categories include housing construction, food service and transportation and logistics workers.
The state health department published detailed guidance about the priorities online, including how people within each phase will be prioritized. State officials said more details would be forthcoming about how Virginians in categories 1B or 1C can sign up to receive a shot and where they will be able to receive one.
While an exact timeline of the rollout to each phase is unclear, Northam said he anticipates all Virginians who want a vaccine being able to get one by summertime. Both vaccines approved in the U.S. so far require two doses.
The governor urged Virginians to continue being vigilant with social distancing measures as they await vaccinations.
“We have a long winter ahead of us,” Northam said.
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