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Avula Named New State Vaccine Czar

Man behind podium
Dr. Danny Avula speaks after being introduced as the new leader of Virginia's vaccination efforts. (Screenshot from briefing)

Dr. Danny Avula has a new job. 

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that Avula, who serves as the director of the Richmond City Health District, will head the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

This comes as Virginia struggles to administer vaccines. As of Jan. 6, only 24% of vaccine doses received by the state have been administered. Avula said he plans to help streamline the state’s vaccination process.

“My hope in this short term assignment is to come alongside [Virginia Department of Health] Commissioner Oliver and the amazing team that is driving this work at VDH to help build some more of those bridges between the work that’s happening locally and the work that’s happening centrally and really get after vaccinating Virginia,” he said.

Additionally, Northam announced the state would implement a “use it or lose it” policy for vaccine distributors, casting blame for the slow rollout at their feet. He said if providers fail to give out all of the doses from a shipment, their allotment will be cut for the next.

“I want you to empty those freezers and get shot in arms. When you have viles, give out shots until they’re gone,” he said. “Don’t save anything. You’re going to get every dose you need, because more is coming.”

Currently, the state is receiving about 14,000 doses of the vaccine per day, Northam said. At that rate, it would take over 3 years for the entire state to be inoculated against the virus which has claimed the lives of over 5,000 Virginians. 

In the short term, the governor said he hopes that number will rise to over 25,000 doses per day with an eventual goal of 50,000. However, he noted it’s hard to know exactly when this will be possible.

“We don’t have everything we need yet. No state does, because it’s being manufactured, literally, in real time,” Northam said. “It will take a moment to achieve this. We’re not going to get there tomorrow.”

Northam was optimistic the goal would be met, however, pointing to the sharp rise in test manufacturing last year as evidence the nation could achieve a similar feat with vaccine production. 

Virginia continues to struggle with its worst spike in COVID-19 cases. Over the past week, the state averaged 4,708 cases reported per day. Percent positivity has risen to 16.7%, up from 4.7% in October. 

Despite the rising numbers, the governor expressed his hope to open the state’s schools in the near future. Currently, only 9 localities, including Hanover County, are open for full-time, in-person instruction. Northam said more schools should be able to open once teachers begin to get vaccinated.

“Teachers are critical to getting schools back open,” he said. “That’s critical to getting people back to work and, literally, getting back to normal. Opening schools doesn’t depend on vaccinating teachers, but that sure will make it a lot easier.”

However, Northam also noted the state may seek additional remedies to supplement instructional time. He said both year-round school and additional school days are on the table.