Virginia to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older by mid-April

Syringes are prepped with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before being administered at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the state will expand vaccine eligibility to all Virginians 16 and older by April 18.

The news puts Virginia nearly two weeks ahead of the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this month. In a news release, the administration said that nearly every high-risk Virginian who pre-registered for a vaccine has already received a shot, allowing the state to expand eligibility sooner than expected. Those still on the state’s pre-registration list will receive an appointment invitation within the next two weeks.

“Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us,” Northam said in a statement. “I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

As of Thursday, Virginia had administered over 3.8 million doses and more than a quarter of the population has received at least one shot, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. Twenty-one of the state’s 35 local health districts have already expanded eligibility to Phase 1c, a broad segment that includes hairstylists, food service workers, journalists and lawyers.

By April 4, local health districts that have moved through their 1c pre-registration lists can move onto members of the general public who have pre-registered, according to the release.

Local health departments have administered the majority of doses — more than 1.1 million in total. Most are relying on large vaccination sites to deliver the bulk of the shots, which still require appointments. State health officials have discouraged residents from walking into scheduled clinics, or from traveling long distances for a vaccine without an official invitation.

Some Virginians have traveled outside their local health districts for a first dose but then requested a second dose locally, which makes distributing and managing the state’s supply more difficult, Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Blue Ridge Health District, told reporters last week.

But as access expands, Virginians have also gained new avenues to receive a vaccination. In March, the Virginia Department of Health announced that pharmacies across the state would open appointments to anyone between the ages of 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. Most of those pharmacies are supplied through a federal partnership that routes additional doses to Virginia outside the state’s weekly allotment.

Thirteen federally qualified health centers in Virginia have also begun to receive federal shipments of vaccine in a partnership designed to expand access for hard-to-reach populations that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

This week, the state received 164,000 first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine, according to Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator. Virginia also received 140,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 112,000 second doses — an unexpected one-time bump.

The state’s Johnson & Johnson allocation was 49,000 doses, less than half of what the state was initially expecting.

“In conversations with the White House this week, we heard that Johnson & Johnson did not meet their production goals for the month of March and so didn’t get to the 4 million plus doses they were expecting,” Avula said in a news briefing on Friday. But that supply is expected to increase in the coming weeks — benefiting Virginia’s total allotment and many smaller medical providers who lack the cold storage needed to store and administer doses from Pfizer and Moderna.