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In Virginia, a disconnect between supply and demand for vaccine rollout

States received a badly needed boost in shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government this week, but the supply still is not meeting the demand. One state, Virginia, has had problems with its vaccine rollout since early on. Amna Nawaz takes a closer look at the progress it has made and the daunting challenges ahead.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    States received a badly needed boost in shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government this week. But the supply still is not meeting the demand.

    Amna Nawaz takes a closer look at one state that had problems with its vaccine rollout early on, the progress it has made and the daunting challenges still ahead.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    They came from all over the commonwealth. After weeks of waiting, and securing a slot, on this Saturday, at Shenandoah University, hundreds of Virginians were getting vaccinated.

  • Grace Shihadeh:

    It's exciting to be able to get it here because we have been trying everywhere else.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The statewide rollout was slow to ramp up, the process clouded with confusion, causing some, like Chris Page and her husband to drive an hour-and-a-half to get that first shot.

  • Chris Page:

    Fairfax was out of vaccines, so I was sort of desperate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She's just recovered from her last round of cancer treatment, and hasn't seen her grandkids in months.

  • Chris Page:

    And we know we can't see them until we get the vaccine. So, I was getting it while the getting was good.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Virginia was once one of the worst in the nation at distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. In recent weeks, it's moved up the ranks, in part thanks to mass vaccination efforts like this, a partnership between the local health district, Valley Health hospital system, and the university.

    While practice unfolded, a steady stream of arrivals filed along the track, met by a volunteer force over 200-strong. Valley Health's Dr. Jeffrey Feit:

  • Dr. Jeffrey Feit:

    I think this is the setup. I think we can — I think it's about civic partnerships. I think it's about health systems, working with universities, other local institutions, governments. We need to work together to get it done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The clinic's been running since January 13. They have vaccinated anywhere from 800 to 2,500 people a day. Their biggest challenge? Not enough vaccine.

  • Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons:

    We could be doing 3,000 to 5,000 does every day here, if they would just send us the doses.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tracy Fitzsimmons is the president Shenandoah University.

  • Tracy Fitzsimmons:

    It's a challenging experience. I do think that the government officials are doing the best they can to get it out as fast as they can. But, here, we have just been waiting. Some days we sit idle, instead of putting thousands of shots and arms every day.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Danny Avula was tapped to take over Virginia's vaccine rollout, after a bumpy first few weeks.

    He says a lack of centralized system put the state behind.

    Had that kind of system been in place weeks ago, would it have gone much smoother and faster in Virginia?

  • Dr. Danny Avula:

    If we had the opportunity to do this over again, and we were able to anticipate just how complex the inventory management piece of this would be and the need for more streamlined, centralized, consistent registration, I think we would have started with that model.

    We would have really started with a large mass vaccination campaign.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But he says the state's now delivering vaccine faster than the federal government can resupply it. A pledged 16 percent increase from the administration this week means going from 105,000 doses a week to 122,000.

  • Danny Avula:

    We know that we are going to get a certain amount. In fact, up until this week, we didn't know that until the week of, which made planning extremely difficult. And while every bit helps, we are in a situation where we have far more capacity to vaccinate individuals than we do supply.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Also limited, the data showing who exactly is getting vaccinated. The state's partial race and ethnicity information shows the vaccine has overwhelmingly gone to white residents.

    Emory University's Dr. Carlos del Rio says failing to focus on delivering vaccine to those hardest-hit, Black, Latino, and Native communities, will create more problems in the long run.

  • Dr. Carlos Del Rio:

    If we just focus on a number of shots, and we don't track equity, we're going to create more inequity by vaccination. We need to put a laser focus on equity.

    And, as we're doing that, if it means having less shot, but doing it in the right places, I think it's worth it, again, if you can decrease hospitalizations and mortality among the most impacted community.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the current limited supply means all those who qualify are still competing for limited slots.

  • Sheila Richardson:

    I'm 73 years old.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sheila Richardson lives in an independent senior living facility.

  • Sheila Richardson:

    While I can access the computer and the phone and keep calling, I again advocate for my fellow residents. They don't have this type of access. So, while I may — luckily get the vaccine, what about the folks that I'm living around?

  • Helen Ross:

    My name is Helen Ross. I'm 74 years old.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Helen and her 76-year-old husband, Chris (ph), live in northern Virginia.

  • Helen Ross:

    We tried to sign Chris up, and it was a hellish procedure, as no doubt you have heard many times before. It just was difficult.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And Dr. Avula says it will stay that way unless they can rapidly scale up. A timeline for herd immunity by summer, he says, is unlikely.

  • Danny Avula:

    We are planning six sites that will be staffed by the National Guard, and that would provide the additional capacity to get us probably to about 60,000 doses a day, which is, I think, what we will need to still meet that goal of getting Virginia vaccinated by the summer.

    Now, all of this is really supply-dependent. And if we don't see that bump in supply until the early summer, then it's going to look deeper into the fall before we can meet that goal.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile, Fitzsimmons says this mass inoculation event can be stood up again, as long as they have doses to distribute.

  • Tracy Fitzsimmons:

    After today, we are out of first doses. We will be doing second dose clinics, but we don't yet have any more first doses.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you know when you're getting your next round of doses?

  • Tracy Fitzsimmons:

    We have no idea when we're getting our next dose.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meaning the race to vaccinate Virginia will be a marathon, not a sprint.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz in Winchester, Virginia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a footnote: The clinic at Virginia's Shenandoah university got good news today. They will be getting a new shipment of vaccines and are preparing to reopen their doors next week.

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