Entering the final day of March, public health officials across Virginia and the nation received both good and bad news in the fight against COVID-19.
First, the bad news: On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), issued an emotional warning of “impending doom” in the U.S. Nationwide, weekly averages in cases (+16%) and hospitalizations (+4%) again are rising and, across 30 states and the District of Columbia, daily case totals have climbed by 5% or higher, NBC News reported.
Then, the good news: COVID-19 vaccine deployment rightly is shifting toward access for anyone who is interested. Within hours of Walensky’s comments, President Joe Biden announced that by April 19, 90% of Americans will be eligible for vaccination and have a site within 5 miles of their homes. More of those options will be community institutions, as the Biden administration announced the number of participating locations in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program would more than double from 17,000 to 40,000. We applaud that decision.
Entering April, we support Virginia’s continued push to prioritize group 1a and 1b populations that most need these shots. We also count any member of the public seeking to do the right thing and get vaccinated as a priority. Amid such a stark warning from the CDC, it’s time for state officials to set clear expectations about how they will open up the COVID-19 vaccine process.
At a Monday press briefing, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt said roughly 1 in 3 adults have received their first dose. More than 50 million Americans fully are vaccinated. “We’re headed in the right direction, but we can’t slow down. Millions remain unvaccinated and at risk,” Slavitt added.
We agree. It has taken months of incredibly complex work just to get where we are. As of Tuesday afternoon, Virginia Department of Health data showed 15.5% of Virginians fully are vaccinated and 29% have received at least one dose.
And while some have criticized Virginia’s process as being too slow, some sort of discipline is necessary. We certainly don’t want to be among the states in the news in recent months, with thousands of people ending up weeks overdue for second shots: North Carolina (12,000), Oklahoma (41,000) or Florida (45,000), among others.
But we also have to anticipate the challenges ahead. When we expand COVID-19 vaccine access to every member of the public, there could be divides in interest that make for a steeper climb to herd immunity.
The World Health Organization already warned in January that 2021 is unlikely to be the year that the globe will achieve herd immunity. But Americans are grasping the importance of getting vaccinated, and that’s a development that has to be seized upon with readily available appointments and shots in arms.
On Tuesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released its monthly Vaccine Monitor poll, which gauges the American public’s perspectives on COVID-19 shots. In March, the share of people who either have received at least one dose or plan to get vaccinated as soon as they can was at 61%, up from 47% in January. Another 17% of people still are taking a “wait-and-see” approach, down from 31% in January.
Then, KFF has found a “small but persistent share” (7%) of people who only will get the vaccine if required for “work, school or other activities.” Another 13% fell in the “definitely not” getting vaccinated category, the same percentage as January.
In Virginia, roughly 7 in 10 people have yet to get vaccinated. How many want to as soon as possible? How many are in the wait-and-see camp? How many only will get vaccinated if required? And how many definitely will pass altogether?
The sooner our leaders set expectations and open up the process to the public, the sooner we can learn how steep a climb we have ahead of us. And if Walensky’s comment about “impending doom” across the country is true, there is little time to waste in getting shots in as many arms as possible. We ask Gov. Ralph Northam and state health officials: What’s the plan?
— Chris Gentilviso