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Northam Accepts Criticism, Vows to Speed Vaccinations

Man speaking with interpreter
Gov. Ralph Northam speaking at a Wednesday press conference where he discussed the measures Virginia is taking to speed its much maligned vaccine rollout. (Screenshot from briefing)

Gov. Ralph Northam empathized with his critics during a Wednesday press conference. He said he too feels frustration over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but assured Virginians that they are taking the steps necessary to “get more shots in arms.”

“Everyone is out of patience, and I understand,” he said. “It will take time to reach everyone, but we’re reaching more people everyday, and the pace is increasing.” 

Northam has caught consistent flack since the vaccine rollout began over Virginia’s slow pace. The state had been languishing near the bottom in terms of per capita vaccinations, but has recently risen up those rankings. As of Jan. 27, the state ranks 26th with 5.8% of the population having received their first dose, according to the Washington Post.

He announced the state has reached his short-term goal of vaccinating 25,000 people each day, but said he has no plans to stop there. He said his administration has been working with hospitals to transfer excess supply, which could increase the pace of vaccination.

“Hospitals have really stepped up and I appreciate that,” Northam said. “By shifting inventory around, we're going to be able to increase the number of shots this week by about 20%. That's about 40,000 more shots by this Sunday, on top of the 175,000 that were already planned, and that is good news."

The governor also announced new guidelines for vaccine distributors, instructing them to use half of their vaccines on adults aged 65 and older and the other half on essential workers, people with preexisting conditions and people in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps.

"It will take several weeks to reach everyone, and I ask you to keep that in mind. I also ask you to remember, if you jump the line, you're taking the spot of someone who needs it more because of their health condition or the job they do in Virginia. We all have to trust each other and I'm asking everyone to do the right thing,” Northam said.

The rollout has also been criticized over a lack of data collection. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported this week that the state collected demographic data on less than half of those who’ve gotten the vaccine. Northam said he is pressuring hospitals to bring this number up.

“We want to ensure that our process for data collection and vaccine distribution is fair, equitable and transparent to all Virginians,” Northam said “It’s the right thing to do and it’s a critical thing to do to provide you the transparency that you expect.”

Legislation is also moving through the General Assembly that would mandate race and ethnicity data be reported, which Northam said he would stand behind. The bill, from Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Richmond), passed the house unanimously on Tuesday. 

He further said the state plans to streamline its online presence, with plans to release a new vaccine dashboard in the coming days and a centralized website and phone number to register for vaccination.

Northam also announced COVID-19 restrictions are being extended at least through February. After a large peak following the winter holidays, Virginia’s COVID-19 case rate has leveled out at around 4,500 cases reported per day, according to the Virginia Department of Health. That rate is about four times greater than it was during the late summer and early fall. The virus has claimed the lives of 6,228 Virginians.