Three million dollars for public outreach. Nearly $2.5 million for refrigerators and thermometers. And more than $71 million for mass vaccination clinics, where hundreds of thousands of Virginians could be immunized against COVID-19.
Virginia’s plan, released to the Mercury Friday, shows the size and scale of a public health campaign designed to protect millions against a historic virus. The plan was submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for review this week and remains “a living document as more information is understood, more vaccines are introduced, and any other considerations develop,” wrote Joseph Hilbert, the Virginia Department of Health’s deputy commissioner for governmental and regulatory affairs, in a Friday email.
But the plan also underscores many of the factors that health workers will contend with when it comes to distributing any future vaccine. While VDH is preparing for a potential Nov. 1 release — a date requested by the Trump administration after the president suggested a vaccine could be ready as early as this month — there’s “no absolute guarantee” of when any safe and effective immunization will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Christy Gray, the director of the department’s division of immunization.
Federal health officials have called a release before Election Day “very unlikely.”
What’s clear is that vaccination will be incremental and unprecedented compared to any previous disease outbreaks within the last decade. Virginia developed pandemic influenza planning more than a decade ago during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak — plans that have informed some of the state’s current coronavirus procedures.
But those mass vaccination efforts were still significantly different than what’s required for the COVID-19 pandemic — a potentially deadly virus that places certain types of people, including the elderly and infirm and those with other health conditions, most at risk. Virginia’s plans call for health experts to consider infection control measures at immunization sites, raising the possibility of drive-through clinics or events at large indoor venues that leave room for social distancing.
There are also significant outstanding questions about the vaccine itself, including how many doses will initially be available. While the federal government will determine how much of the vaccine is distributed to Virginia, according to the state’s planning document, health officials are planning a phased approach under the assumption that only limited amounts will be available when it’s first released.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.