State health official updates lawmakers on vaccine latest

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — If federal regulators approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Virginia could begin receiving limited doses as early as mid-December, the state epidemiologist told lawmakers Monday.

Manufacturers already have begun stockpiling doses in anticipation of eventual approval, but the first shots in what’s expected to be the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history will be in short supply. Dr. Lilian Peake outlined the phased approach Virginia plans to use to distribute the doses during a virtual meeting of a House committee.

“We plan to work primarily through hospitals and pharmacy chains in the initial phase to vaccinate groups we anticipate may be prioritized: that’s health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff,” she said.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate. FDA’s scientific advisers are holding a public meeting Dec. 10 to review Pfizer’s request and send a recommendation to the FDA.

“When a vaccine is approved by the FDA, we will immediately receive doses from the federal government. And that could be as early as mid-December for that Pfizer vaccine,” Peake said.

Moderna Inc. said Monday it also would ask U.S. and European regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine.

States are also waiting for recommendations from a federal panel called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The panel of experts, which meets Tuesday, will recommend whom to vaccinate and when.

Peake said Virginia will adopt that panel’s recommendations. While health care workers are among those expected to be prioritized, she said it was likely there won’t be enough doses for all health care workers early on.

Peake added the state was working with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association to determine how the limited doses would be distributed.

“The level to which it’s broken down is going to depend on how much vaccine we have, and we don’t know that yet,” she said.

For the first shipment of vaccines, Peake said Virginia — like all states — is working with the CDC on prepositioning doses at health systems that already have the necessary ultra-cold refrigeration systems.

Enough doses for the general U.S. population aren’t expected until at least spring.

Virginia has reported more than 237,800 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and at least 4,062 confirmed and probable deaths from the virus, according to health department data.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by about 1,194, an increase of 85.4%, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project. One in every 469 people in Virginia tested positive in the past week, the data show.

Earlier this month, with cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations rising across the state, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam implemented substantial new restrictions on businesses and gatherings.


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