Vaccinate Virginia Town Hall, May 4 at 7 p.m.

Send your questions prior to the show to news@wric.com or post them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #VaccinateVirginia.

This event will be live broadcast and streaming at:

  • WRIC8 / wric.com
  • WAVY10 / wavy.com
  • WDCW / dcw50.com
  • FOX43 / wavy.com
  • WFXR / wfxrtv.com
  • WDVM / localdvm.com
  • News Channel 11 / wjhl.com

Town Hall Panelists Include:

  • DR. DANNY AVULA
    State Vaccine Coordinator, VDH
  • DR. NORM OLIVER
    Virginia State Health Commissioner, VDH
  • DR. TAISON BELL
    Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Pulmonary/Critical Care, UVA Health
  • DR. SERGIO RIMOLA
    OBGYN and VA Latino Advisory Board
    Health Committee, Inova Health
  • DR. KAREN SHELTON
    Director of Mt. Rogers Health District, VDH
  • DR. DAVID SWITZER
    Medical Director of Population Health, Valley Health

Learn more about Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Response: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/.


(PDF Town Hall Flier)

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula on Federal Action Regarding Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

(Richmond, Va.) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted their recommended pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following the recommendation of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that the vaccine should be cleared for use by all adults. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will follow that guidance and instruct providers across the Commonwealth that they are free to resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine immediately.

This extra scrutiny should instill confidence in the system that is in place to guarantee COVID-19 vaccine safety. As with any vaccine, we encourage individuals to educate themselves on any potential side effects and to weigh that against the possibility of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.

We encourage all Virginians to schedule an appointment to receive one of the three available free COVID-19 vaccines by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682).

VDH and DCLS Launches COVID-19 Variants of Concern Dashboard – Includes Information on Variants of Concern

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH), in collaboration with the Department of General Services’ (DGS) Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (state public health lab), launched a COVID-19 Variants of Concern dashboard.  The dashboard includes variants of concern received from participating laboratories for specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are concerning as they may increase the risk to human health. The variants may:

  • Spread more easily
  • Cause more severe illness
  • Escape the immune protection provided by available COVID-19 vaccines or by natural infection with the virus that causes COVID-19
  • Make viral tests less accurate
  • Make some treatments less effective

COVID-19 variants  have been emerging and circulating around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Results on variants of concern that are reported to VDH are quite small compared to the total number of tests conducted daily. However, VDH uses this information to estimate that there are many more cases of COVID-19 caused by these variants circulating statewide than what are identified. As of this week approximately 1000 variants of concern have been reported to VDH. This number increases daily. Click here for more information on Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19.

With the threat of these new variant strains spreading, it is important now, more than ever, to wear a mask correctly over your mouth and nose, stay at least six feet from others, avoid crowds, wash your hands often, and get vaccinated for COVID-19. Taking part in all of these public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. The best way to stop variant strains from developing in the first place is to stop the spread of the virus.

The dashboard will be updated once a week and available on the VDH website at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-data-insights/.

First Cases of P.1 COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced that the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant P.1 have been identified in two samples from Virginia residents. One case was identified in an adult resident of the Northwest Region who had a history of domestic travel during the exposure period and the second case was identified in an adult resident of the Eastern Region with no history of travel. Neither case had a record of COVID-19 vaccination prior to illness onset. The P.1 variant, which was first identified in travelers from Brazil in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that infections with this variant cause more severe disease. To date, the P.1 variant has been identified in at least 22 other U.S. states.

In each case, the P.1 variant was initially identified by laboratories using next-generation sequencing to help expand Virginia’s genomic surveillance efforts for genetic changes to the virus that causes COVID-19. Of the 674 variants of concern reported to VDH to date, the majority have been identified as B.1.1.7 (78.5%), followed by B.1.351 (9.5%), B.1.427 (8.0%) and B.1.429 (3.7%). It is very likely that these variants are more common in our communities than the number of reported cases suggest. This is because not all COVID-19 positive samples are tested to see what variant type they are.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures.  Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Answer the call if contacted by VDH as part of our case investigation and contact tracing efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

As of April 16, 2021, Virginia has administered 5,105,585 COVID-19 vaccine doses. More than 3.3 million Virginians, representing 38.7% of Virginia’s total population, have received at least one dose. Of those, 2 million Virginians, or 23.5% of the Commonwealth’s population, are fully vaccinated.

Another April 16 milestone shows more than 2 million Virginians have joined the fight against COVID-19 using their mobile devices. This includes 1,082,068 COVIDWISE users – the nation’s first app using the Google/Apple framework and one of the most downloaded exposure notifications apps in the United States. Approximately 951,000 additional iPhone users have also turned on COVIDWISE Express, an exposure notifications option specifically for iPhone users.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit VDH’s Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19 website and CDC’s About the Variants website.

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula on Virginia Death Connected to Johnson & Johnson Investigation

(Richmond, Va.) — This afternoon, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirmed to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) that it is examining the March death of a Virginia woman as part of its investigation into possible adverse side effects from the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The Virginia death was reported to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and a report can be found by searching the system for VAERS ID 1114806-1. No additional details will be provided during the investigation.

Earlier Tuesday, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination. This pause was recommended out of an abundance of caution, as these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. To date, more than 6.8 million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson vaccines and six recipients are known to have developed a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday, April 14, to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases.

Virginia will stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccines until this investigation is complete. This pause is reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working. Virginia’s vaccine rollout will continue with the other two authorized vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider, or call 911 if it is a medical emergency.

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula On Pause in Administration of Johnson and Johnson Vaccine

(Richmond, Va.) — We are closely monitoring the actions by the federal government to pause all Johnson & Johnson vaccinations while it investigates an extremely rare possible side effect. In Virginia, we will cease all Johnson & Johnson vaccines until this investigation is complete. If you have an upcoming appointment for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will be contacted to reschedule that appointment.

This pause is reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working. We look forward to a thorough review by federal health officials. Meantime, we will continue Virginia’s vaccine rollout at this time with the other two authorized vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider or call 911 if it is a medical emergency.

Virginia Department of Health Announces ASL Capabilities for Vaccine Call Center – Videophone 1-877-VAX-IN-VA or “ASL Now” at vaccinate.virginia.gov

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announces a new service for Deaf and hard of hearing Virginians who use American Sign Language (ASL). VDH partnered with Connect Direct, a subsidiary of not-for-profit Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), to provide support in ASL for the Vaccinate Virginia Call Center during standard operational hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. ASL users have two ways to connect to this service, by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

Virginia is the first state to provide real-time ASL support for COVID-19 and vaccine information. Callers can connect directly with ASL-fluent representatives via videophone or webcam and ask questions to get clarification on an array of issues and concerns related to COVID-19 vaccine, all in their primary language. This is important, because ASL is not English “on the hands;” it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural context different from, and uninfluenced by, English conventions. The service uses Deaf employees, including several recently-hired Deaf Virginians, who are fluent in ASL and trained to provide important information about coronavirus. This service, therefore, not only ensures communication access but is creating jobs for a historically under-employed community; research shows that compared to the nationwide average of 20%, over 40% of people with hearing loss are not in the labor force.

“Deaf people using video interpreters may not always have effective communication when making phone calls through the Video Relay Service,” said Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing director Eric Raff. “I am pleased that VDDHH was able to work with VDH to ensure Deaf people can directly call Vaccinate Virginia and get crucial and accurate information to protect their health during this pandemic.”

Vaccine Call Center for American Sign Language Support:
Vaccine Call Center can be reached 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or click the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

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Endorsement Quotes 

“Virginia is a trailblazer, leading the way for other states to follow suit,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, M.A. “Introducing the ability for the Vaccinate Virginia call center to communicate with Virginians using ASL is an extremely important step toward vaccinating the population against COVID-19.”

“Connect Direct applauds Virginia for its dedication to its ASL-using residents,” said Craig Radford, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at CSD. “Many state services, including health services, are often inaccessible to Deaf ASL users. We encourage more state governments to follow Virginia’s lead.”

“I am proud that Virginia continues to be a national leader in health equity and is now offering ASL as an option on the statewide vaccination call center,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D.

National Public Health Week 2021

April 5-11, 2021 marks National Public Health Week (NPHW). During this time, we recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that need improvement. Governor Ralph Northam has issued a proclamation to observe NPHW in Virginia. 

This year’s NPHW theme is “Building Bridges to Better Health.” Making communities safe and healthy is public health’s top priority. COVID-19 has made that even more important. Even though we won’t gather in person, social media and virtual platforms make it easier than ever for us to connect, create and take action.

We have been working to move forward by providing more than four million vaccines. Virginia’s vaccination efforts are well underway as we #VaccinateVirginia. For more information, visit: https://vaccinate.virginia.gov/

There is a NPHW toolkit available and it includes social media posts and images, as well as fliers, posters and banners. Learn more about NPHW at: http://www.nphw.org/. NPHW shareables: http://www.nphw.org/Tools-and-Tips/Shareables.

Daily Themes

Monday, April 5: Rebuilding and Elevating the Essential Health Workforce

After a year of unprecedented times and hardship, Virginia is resilient and building connections and listening to community leaders who prioritize health for everyone. This week gives us a chance to show the progress we have made and to start building the necessary connections. Elevating the essential and health workforce is crucial to public health. Worker protections equal better health outcomes. Frontline workers deserve adequate pay, supplies and support. 

Tuesday, April 6: Advancing Racial Equity

Advancing racial equity involves dismantling policies and practices that uphold racism and support inequities. We must make racial equity central to health equity. At VDH, our office of Health Equity works tirelessly to engage front-line response efforts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. #RacismOrHealth 

For more information, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-equity/

Wednesday, April 7: Strengthening Community and Uplifting Mental Health and Wellness

Strengthening community improves public health in the places where we live, work, play, and learn. Let’s work toward clean, well-designed, connected communities for all. At VDH, there are several programs that work consistently to reach this goal. For more information, visit:  www.vdh.virginia.gov/vdhlivewell/healthy-living/.   

COVID-19 and racism have been the dual epidemics harming mental health in our country. Uplift mental health and wellness as key parts of public health. We understand how this is affecting people. 

Anyone experiencing anxiety or stress related to COVID-19 may call or text VA COPES, a free and confidential COVID-19 response warmline, at: 877-349-6428. This line is available: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. & Sat.–Sun. 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Spanish speakers are available.

Thursday, April 8: Galvanizing Climate Justice

Galvanizing climate justice to address social inequities and improve our health must be part of ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to climate change. We know that building strong communities make them more resilient, so they have better health outcomes after disasters. In Virginia, our Climate Change Committee (C-3) has been working to address the health impacts of climate change. For more information, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/commissioner/administration/climate-and-health/

Friday, April 9: Constructing COVID-19 Resilience 

Building COVID-19 resilience is key to moving forward. It’s important to invest in public health, promote sound practices and act based on science. The data is clear: when we act backed by public health science, health outcomes improve. Non-medical mask-wearing by 75% of the population reduced infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 by 37.7%. States and local counties that enforced stay-at-home orders saw significantly decreased COVID-19 incidence and death rates.

Join us for the “Constructing COVID-19 Public Health Resilience” webinar, Friday, April 9, 12:30-1:15 p.m. Featuring State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, MD, MA; Stan McChrystal and Chris Fussell from the McChrystal Group. Join the conversation at the webinar link.

2021 County Health Rankings Show How Virginia Is Improving – Report ranks localities in Virginia by health outcomes and health factors

Arlington County ranks healthiest in Virginia, according to the annual County Health Rankings, released today by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

“We at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) are extremely proud that Arlington and the rest of the Northern Virginia region enjoy such good health, as recognized by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know many factors affect public health, and the Commonwealth has made great strides in recent years, but we also know there are healthcare gaps that Virginia and its leaders must address going forward as we navigate our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will not let up in our efforts to create healthy communities and improve healthy outcomes for all people in Virginia.”

According to the 2021 rankings, the five healthiest counties in Virginia, starting with the most healthy, are Arlington, Loudoun, Falls Church City, Fairfax and Alexandria City. The five counties with the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are the cities of Petersburg, Galax, Covington, Martinsville and Hopewell.

“Arlington and areas like Northern Virginia have much to celebrate, being highly ranked in many areas contributing to excellent health, including employment and education,” said Reuben K. Varghese, MD, MPH, director, Arlington Health District. “And yet, in areas with such wonderful overall health outcomes, there are significant disparities even within a 26-square-mile jurisdiction where there is a decade of difference in life expectancy between census tracts.”

Even within Virginia’s healthiest counties, health disparities and inequities still exist within their borders, similar to what is seen at the statewide level. By looking beyond aggregate data and drilling down into results by different ethnic, racial and other often marginalized groups, we can see that health disparities exist among groups in the Commonwealth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted these disparities in health. VDH has a continued commitment to making all people in Virginia aware of these inequities, and encourages its local health departments to focus their communities’ attention on these issues and work with all populations to create the conditions that are needed for optimal health and well-being.

The data used to calculate the 2021 rankings are from 2019 and earlier and do not yet reflect the impact of the pandemic or programs health districts have implemented in the last year to improve health in their communities. The 2021 rankings highlight the differences in health and opportunity by place as well as the health barriers disproportionately impacting communities of color and families with lower incomes. The impact of the pandemic will begin to emerge in the 2022 County Health Rankings data.

The Crater Health District, which includes Petersburg, is promoting healthy eating and physical activity through collaboration with the Petersburg Healthy Options Partnership. Together they are working toward a healthier Petersburg by providing residents with equitable options for a healthier lifestyle.

“The Crater Health District is working with locality leaders, organizations and community members to improve health outcomes for all people in our district,” said Alton Hart, Jr., MD, MPH, director, Crater Health District. “Many factors beyond medical care influence health. We look forward to using this year’s County Health Rankings data to focus on the unique needs of our area and build strategies towards meaningful change.”

For more information on the 2021 County Health Rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org. For more information on health resources throughout Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts.

First Cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 COVID-19 Variants Reported in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 in samples that were collected between December 2020 and February 2021 from Virginia residents. The B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants, which first emerged in California in the summer of 2020, are associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that infections with these variants cause more severe disease. These two variants were only recently added to CDC’s Variant of Concern list.

The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the cases using next-generation sequencing analysis, which provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. With the identification of these new variant cases, Virginia now has identified a total of 14 cases of the B.1.427 variant, nine cases of the B.1.429 variant, 26 cases of the B.1.351 variant (first identified in South Africa) and 127 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (first identified in the United Kingdom). With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures.  Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH Variants website and the CDC COVID-19 Variants website.