Dem Govs Get It Done: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Get-Tough Approach” to Vaccine Rollout Pays Off

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According to the New York Times, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has paid off – Virginia has administered 88% of the doses it has received, ranking Virginia 6th in the country, and 1.5 million Virginians have received their first shot, ranking the commonwealth 12th.

Gov. Northam is getting the vaccine rollout right, despite low vaccine supply and logistical challenges leftover from the Trump administration’s disastrous handling of the pandemic. Gov. Northam, the nation’s only doctor governor, has listened to the science and followed the lead of public health experts like Virginia’s vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, who has received national praise.

Gov. Northam has also spearheaded a new system that will streamline pre-registration and make it easier for Virginians to make an appointment when it’s their turn to be vaccinated.

Other Democratic governors are taking similar approaches to ease Americans’ difficulties navigating vaccine appointments. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced a “Vaccine Connector” last week to help his constituents find where, when, and how to get a vaccine.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Democratic governors like Gov. Northam have continually taken a science-based approach and championed public health measures that save lives — like wearing a mask and avoiding large gatherings. Now with the vaccine, Democratic governors are working to finish the job and ensure that the vaccination rollout moves as quickly as possible.

Read more about Gov. Northam’s vaccine rollout below. 

The New York Times: Short of Vaccine, States Find Hidden Stashes in Their Own Backyards

When tiny glass vials of coronavirus vaccine began rolling off production lines late last year, federal health officials set aside a big stash for nursing homes being ravaged by the virus. Health providers around the country figured as well that it was prudent to squirrel away vials to ensure that everyone who got a first dose of vaccine got a second one.

Two months later, it is clear both strategies went overboard.

Millions of doses wound up trapped in logistical limbo, either set aside for nursing homes that did not need them or stockpiled while Americans clamored in vain for their first doses. Now a national effort is underway to pry those doses loose — and, with luck, give a significant boost to the national vaccination ramp-up.


And in Virginia, Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said he has been “wheeling and dealing like on a trading floor” to free up tens of thousands of doses for the general population.

Dr. Avula, a 42-year-old pediatrician and preventive medicine physician, came to the job in early January to find multitudes of Virginians languishing on vaccination waiting lists and less than half of the state’s vaccine allotment actually making it into arms.

So first he cut off the spigot of doses for nursing homes until existing stocks were exhausted. Then, in talks with six of the state’s hospital systems, he offered a deal: If they released the vials they were saving for second doses, they would be guaranteed two doses later for every vial they surrendered.

The hospital administrators agreed, with some trepidation. “You’ve got to be sure about this,” he said they told him. “Because we can’t be left empty-handed.”

The get-tough approach in Virginia and other states has begun to pay off. The gap between the number of doses shipped to states and the number injected into arms is narrowing: More than three-fourths of the doses delivered are now being used, compared with less than half in late January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data tracker.


In Virginia, the job of breaking through supply logjams has fallen to Dr. Avula. Mr. Northam plucked him from his job as health director for Richmond and the surrounding county on Jan. 6 to run the state’s vaccine program.

It was three weeks into the nation’s rollout, and Virginia was ranked near the bottom of states in shots delivered. Announcing Dr. Avula’s appointment, Mr. Northam warned hospitals, pharmacies and health care providers of consequences if they did not pick up the pace.

“You use it or you lose it,” he said. “I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms.”

Still, more than two weeks later, state data showed that Virginia was using only 45 percent of doses.

Part of the problem was faulty data. Nationally, federal officials estimate that accounts for only about 2 percent of doses that show up as unused. It was a bigger factor in Virginia.

Until a software patch was created, vaccinations of hospital staff did not show up in the state’s system. Some clinics were using paper records and were slow to file.

Dr. Avula put a 10-person team on “pounding the data,” and the state began rising in the national rankings.

Then he tackled stockpiles. Walgreens and CVS had already drawn down most of the quarter-million doses allotted to the state’s long-term-care program. On Jan. 25, with the C.D.C.’s permission, Dr. Avula put the 62,000 doses that were left under state control.


To get more second doses out of cold storage, Dr. Avula and other top state officials picked six of the state’s 20-some hospital systems that had proved they could deliver first doses efficiently and reach communities.

They gave the hospital administrators an ironclad guarantee of two fresh second doses of vaccine for every stockpiled second dose they gave up — one dose to cover the person for whom the second dose was designated, and one to cover the person who got the freed-up dose. Scrawling on a huge whiteboard with green and blue markers, Dr. Avula kept track of the state’s promises for the weeks ahead.

By the end of the week, the state had sprung loose enough shots out of the second-dose reserves to at least partially protect 40,000 more Virginians.


Virginia is now using its first doses nearly as fast as it gets them, with 98 percent administered. But a substantial backlog of roughly 244,000 doses remains while 1.2 million Virginians remain on waiting lists.

Dr. Avula said that cache of doses should be reduced by more than one-third — an effort he said required “leaning on and cajoling” other health providers and could take several weeks. Mr. Northam said in an interview that he wanted doses used within three or four days of arrival.

A flood of public requests for data gave the state a chance to create a new incentive not to hoard.

On Wednesday, Virginia updated its official website to show precisely how much vaccine had been delivered to more than 240 of the state’s health care providers — and how much had been used.

“This kind of visibility does, you know, motivate,” Dr. Avula said.