VDH Announces Availability of New 2023–2024 COVID-19 Vaccine

On September 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed the vaccine recommendations of its independent panel of advisors, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Everyone aged 6 months and older is eligible to receive a 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine, made by Pfizer and Moderna. In the coming days, the vaccine will start to be available at pharmacies and physicians’ offices in addition to federally qualified health centers, free clinics, and local health department offices. Virginians should speak with their healthcare providers about receiving the vaccine.

Persons aged 65 years and older and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for severe illness, hospitalization and death associated with COVID-19. Therefore, it is especially important for older adults to consider this vaccine and discuss it with their healthcare provider. The 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccines are designed to target the Omicron variant XBB.1.5. Studies have shown that these vaccines can also protect against severe outcomes from other Omicron variants, such as BA.2.86 and EG.5.

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines will now be available on the commercial market. According to CDC, most Americans will still get a COVID-19 vaccine with no out-of-pocket cost. People with insurance will likely pay nothing out of pocket for the vaccine. Those who are uninsured or underinsured can access free COVID-19 vaccines through two federal programs, the Bridge Access Program for adults and the Vaccines for Children program. These vaccines will be available to eligible persons at local health departments and participating pharmacies and healthcare providers. To find vaccine locations participating in the Bridge Access Program, visit Vaccines.gov. To find a Vaccine for Children program provider, visit vdh.virginia.gov/immunization/vvfc.

VDH remains dedicated to preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19, particularly for people at higher risk, and will continue working to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in the state. Vaccination is one of many strategies to prevent COVID-19. Other important steps in combatting the virus are frequent handwashing, good respiratory hygiene that includes coughing and sneezing into your elbow, getting tested if you’re feeling sick, staying home if you are sick, and consulting with your healthcare provider to see if you are eligible for treatment. The VDH COVID-19 dashboards allow Virginians to stay abreast of the current state of COVID-19 trends in their community; the dashboards are available on the VDH website.

If you are interested in obtaining more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, check the Vaccinate Virginia website or contact the VDH Call Center. Call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1), 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages.

Health Care Organizations Encourage the Public to Get Informed, Make an Emergency Plan During National Preparedness Month

Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, Virginia Department of Health, and Regional Healthcare Coalitions Encourage the Public to Prepare for Emergency Situations Including Natural Disasters, Infectious Outbreaks, and Manmade Threats


September is National Preparedness Month, an annual observance that serves as a reminder of the importance for families and organizations to develop response plans to prepare for unexpected emergencies or disaster situations.

Emergency situations that have widespread impact can take many forms: natural disasters such as major storms that cause flooding, wind damage, property destruction, or power outages; biological hazards such as infectious disease outbreaks that spread across a population causing serious illness and strain on the health care system; or manmade events including acts of violence or other catastrophes that cause mass injuries and casualties.

During National Preparedness Month, the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Commonwealth’s four Regional Healthcare Coalitions urge Virginians to develop plans for emergency situations. A family plan means preparation and discussion ahead of catastrophic events so everyone understands how they will communicate during an emergency and how they will reconnect when danger has passed. It also involves having a family list or form with information including important phone numbers, insurance contacts and other key medical and essential information needed for emergency response, as well as on-hand emergency supplies (water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, and a portable radio to access emergency alerts and warnings, and more). Learn more about building an emergency supply kit here. Emergency plans should contemplate what supplies, information, and documents families will need during shelter-in-place events, situations warranting evacuation to a safer location, or the need to search for loved ones after an emergency. Learn more about preparing at vaemergency.gov/prepare.

“Our experiences from recent years have demonstrated the critical importance of being ready to respond when emergencies happen,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “Emergency situations can occur at any time. Virginians across the Commonwealth have witnessed this in the form of major flooding in Hampton Roads and Southwest Virginia, a snowstorm that stranded motorists on the interstate in Northern Virginia, and the COVID-19 outbreak beginning in 2020. In each case, those emergencies developed quickly and presented serious health and public safety concerns for people impacted by them. When emergencies happen, hospitals are part of the critical infrastructure engaged in response efforts. Because of this, hospitals and other health care organizations partner with state and federal government agencies to conduct ongoing emergency preparation and planning efforts. Just as these organizations plan for the worst, it is vital for families and private sector firms to also have regularly updated plans that can be activated when an emergency happens.”

“I urge Virginians to take time during National Preparedness Month to assess how prepared they and their families are for coping with disasters and emergencies,” said State Health Commissioner Karen Shelton, MD. “Do you have enough water and non-perishable food on hand to last for several days if everything shut down? Do you have your mobile phone set up to receive emergency alerts? If you had to evacuate, where would you go and how would you get there? Have you made plans for your pet if you had to evacuate to a shelter? These are some of the questions we all should be thinking about year-round as disasters come in all forms and can happen anytime. VDH and its Local Health Districts provide oversight of many emergency response functions, including monitoring for disease outbreaks, insuring food and water safety, and mass casualty management.”

This year, the theme of National Preparedness Month is “Take Control in 1, 2, 3.” Its focus is on helping elderly individuals, including those from communities that are disproportionally impacted by the all-hazard events and threats, prepare for emergencies. Additional information and resources about emergency preparation and planning are available through Ready.gov and the Red Cross.

For businesses, Ready.gov recommends conducting a risk assessment to identify potential emergency scenarios as part of the development of an emergency response plan consistent with organizational objectives and focused on protecting staff, visitors, contractors and others on premises if an emergency occurs.

In Virginia, critical public and private sector organizations collaborate to conduct ongoing planning preparation activities to be ready when disaster strikes. This includes VHHA, its member hospitals and health system, and VDH. These organizations partner on the Virginia Healthcare Emergency Management Program (VHEMP), an initiative supported with grant funding from the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Hospital Preparedness Program under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). VHHA and VDH work through VHEMP to address gaps in the health care delivery system regarding the ability to respond to disaster situations. This work is facilitated by a network of four regional healthcare coalitions (the Central Virginia Healthcare Coalition, the Eastern Virginia Healthcare Coalition, the Northern Virginia Emergency Response System, and the Southwest Virginia Healthcare Coalition) that work with health care facilities and response organizations to help prepare for emergency response situations. Each regional healthcare coalition maintains a Regional Healthcare Coordination Center (RHCC) to support response activities during a disaster affecting health care facilities.

The extent of meaningful cooperation between government agencies, health systems, and regional coalitions is reflected in the effectiveness of Virginia’s emergency response apparatus. The Commonwealth has been recognized several times in recent years for its high level of preparation for public health emergencies. That includes the latest report by Trust for America’s Health, Ready or Not 2023: Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, which again places Virginia in the top tier of states for emergency readiness. The report measures state levels of preparedness to respond to a wide range of health emergencies including infectious outbreaks, natural disasters, and manmade events. Previous annual reports from Trust for America’s Health – including those compiled during the lengthy response to the COVID-19 pandemic – also ranked Virginia in the top tier of states in 2022, 2021, and 2020. Virginia has also been ranked among the top states in the National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHPSI) report that evaluates state readiness to respond to public health emergencies.

Virginia Department of Health Announces Statewide Outbreak of Meningococcal Disease

(RICHMOND, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is announcing a statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease. Twenty-seven cases of meningococcal disease, caused by the bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis type Y, have been reported in eastern, central, and southwest Virginia since June 2022. This development is three times the expected number of cases during this time period. Most cases are residents of eastern Virginia, where a regional outbreak was first announced in September 2022. The most recent notice to the public was shared in March 2023. Five patients have died from complications associated with this disease. The strain associated with this outbreak is known to be circulating more widely in the United States. Risk to Virginia’s population is low.

Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious illness. It takes close or lengthy contact to spread these bacteria. The bacteria spread from person to person through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions (e.g., kissing, coughing or sneezing directly into the face of others, or sharing cups, water bottles, eating utensils, and cigarettes). In general, and while this outbreak continues, VDH recommends:

  • Don’t share personal items (e.g., vapes, lipsticks, toothbrushes).
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Do not delay seeking care if you experience symptoms of meningococcal disease.
  • Ensure adolescents and teenagers receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) on schedule at 11 or 12 years of age and then a booster dose at 15-16 years of age.
  • Speak to your healthcare provider if you are at increased risk for meningococcal disease to ensure you are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine.

This bacterium can be commonly found in the nose and throat of people without causing disease. Rarely, people can develop serious forms of illness, such as meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or septicemia (a bloodstream infection). Symptoms can first appear flu-like and may quickly become more severe. Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics, but quick medical attention is extremely important. You should not delay seeking care if you or a loved one experience the following symptoms: fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright light, and possibly a rash.

VDH has not identified a common risk factor; however, genetic sequencing of available specimens has confirmed that the cases are highly genetically related. Most case-patients are Black or African American adults between 30-60 years of age. Twenty-six case-patients were not vaccinated for Neisseria meningitidis type Y.

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) can provide protection against Neisseria meningitidis type Y. VDH encourages parents and healthcare providers to make sure that children receive all recommended vaccines. Teenagers should receive their first dose of MenACWY vaccine prior to entering 7th grade, and a booster dose before 12th grade. If you are a part of a group that is at increased risk for meningococcal disease, including people living with HIV, those whose spleen is damaged or removed, people with sickle cell disease, anyone with a rare immune condition called “complement deficiency” or anyone taking a type of drug called a “complement inhibitor,” you should talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you are up to date on the MenACWY vaccine. Contact your local health department if you have questions about your options for accessing the MenACWY vaccine. For additional help contacting your local health department, call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages.

The latest information is available on the VDH meningococcal disease outbreak response website. Data are updated monthly (first Tuesday).

Virginia Department of Health Updating COVID-19 Dashboards to Streamline Data Presentation, Conform to CDC Reporting Standards

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) continues to streamline information on its COVID-19 data dashboards to better reflect current COVID-19 trends in the Commonwealth and to align with updated reporting standards of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These changes will take place Tuesday, August 1, 2023; the dashboards will continue to update weekly on Tuesdays. Access to currently available data will be maintained in the Virginia Open Data Portal.

The COVID-19 Summary dashboard aims to serve as a hub of priority metrics that provide an overview of COVID-19 trends and activity in Virginia. The dashboard has been updated as follows:

  • Emergency Department Visits: Updated
    • VDH will use the standard of “diagnosed COVID-19” to align with the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.
  • Cases by Date of Illness (on the summary page): Removed
    • COVID-19 cases are significantly underreported due to at-home tests. VDH will still maintain the individual case dashboard and continue to prioritize the surveillance of severe illnesses.
  • Hospital Admissions: Updated
    • A Hospital Admission Level Indicator that aligns with CDC levels will be added. Hospital Admissions will be updated to use the rate per 100,000 population of new admissions, changing from the number of new admissions.
  • Hospital Beds in Use: Updated
    • Hospital Beds in Use will change from Number of Beds in Use for COVID-19 to Percent of Total Inpatient Beds Occupied by COVID-19 Patients.
    • An Inpatient Bed Occupied Level Indicator, which will be aligned with CDC levels, will be added.
  • Vaccination: Updated
    • This section of the summary dashboard will now display the cumulative total doses administered.
    • The percent of people vaccinated with a primary series will be displayed.
    • The percent of the population with up-to-date vaccinations will replace the number of booster/additional doses administered.
    • Definition of “primary series” and “up to date” are explained on the revised dashboard.
      • Primary series includes persons who received one dose of a single-dose vaccine or two doses with proper intervals of either a mRNA or a protein-based series.
      • Up to date includes persons who have received all recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine per the current CDC definition.
    • The map will be updated to display the percent of the population who are up-to-date to reflect the current CDC definition.
  • Variants: Removed
    • Sample sizes for Virginia isolates are low and not representative. The CDC genomic surveillance report for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Region 3 is available and includes Virginia data.

Several standalone COVID-19 dashboards will be updated as follows:

  • Vaccine Summary: Updated
    • This dashboard will now display the percent of people vaccinated with a primary series, replacing the measures for count of and percent of people fully vaccinated, which conforms to the CDC standards.
    • The percent of the population with up-to-date vaccination will replace the number of booster/additional doses administered.
    • Definition of “primary series” and “up to date” are explained on the revised dashboard (see above).
    • The map will be updated to display the percent of up-to-date to reflect the current CDC definition.
    • The COVID-19 vaccination administration by day will be removed.
  • Vaccination Demographics: Updated
    • The dashboard will display demographic data populations who have completed their primary series or are up to date on vaccination, a change from the previously display of at least one dose, fully vaccinated, monovalent booster, and bivalent booster.
    • The categories and headers have been simplified for improved clarity and user experience.
    • Age group metrics have been updated, including removal of Ages: 12+ and addition of 6 months+.
  • Emergency Department Visits: Updated
    • A simplified dashboard with prioritized metrics will be displayed.
  • Outbreaks: Removed
    • VDH will communicate mitigation strategies to the public if any concerning COVID-19 outbreak trends were observed.
  • Weekly Health District Case Data: Removed
    • This is being retired to streamline the COVID-19 dashboards.

VDH remains dedicated to preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19, particularly for people at higher risk, and will continue working to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in the state. These dashboard changes are intended to streamline the information that is most helpful in tracking COVID-19 and its impact on Virginia at this point in the pandemic. The VDH COVID-19 dashboards are available here.

Emergency Medical Services Week Recognizes the Determination and Commitment of Virginia’s EMS Providers to Deliver Quality Prehospital Care and Save Lives

Virginia’s EMS providers respond to emergencies during our citizens greatest hour of need. The critical moments from the time a 911 call is received to the arrival at the hospital is where emergency care begins. Last year, EMS providers responded to more than 1.65 million calls for help in Virginia, which represents approximately 4,520 incidents per day.

As proclaimed by Governor Glenn Youngkin, May 21-27 is EMS Week in Virginia. This special week honors EMS providers’ commitment to respond to emergencies and provide critical care. EMS for Children Day, May 24, emphasizes the pediatric patient and their required specialized treatment. This year’s EMS Week theme is, “Where Emergency Care Begins,” and it highlights the importance of our first responders who assure quality prehospital care.

“Seconds count when a person is suffering a heart attack, is seriously injured in a wreck, or is having a life-threatening allergic reaction, stroke or other medical emergency. EMS teams provide pre-hospital, on-the-scene care that can make the difference between full recovery, prolonged disability, or death,” said State Health Commissioner Karen Shelton, MD. “EMS professionals, along with other first responders, are also on the front lines of the opioid overdose epidemic, saving lives by administering naloxone, giving people another chance at life and recovery. We appreciate their dedication to the communities they serve.”

“Virginia’s EMS providers are among the best in the nation due to their elevated focus on providing exceptional prehospital emergency care and maintaining their skills with continuing education,” said Gary Brown, director of the Virginia Department of Health Office of EMS. “Their ability to remain calm, treat injuries and save lives during harrowing incidents is truly remarkable. It is my honor to recognize and thank our EMS providers for their heroic efforts, dedication and determination to protecting the health and well-being of all people in Virginia, each and every day.”

During EMS Week, Virginia EMS agencies may host community activities, including first aid classes, health and safety fairs, open houses and more. These family-friendly events encourage citizens to meet and greet the first responders in their neighborhoods. Please check their websites or social media pages for additional information.

In recognition of Virginia’s fallen fire and EMS personnel, the Virginia Fallen Firefighters and EMS Memorial Service honors fire any EMS responders who died in the line of duty and those who risk their lives daily to serve and protect Virginians. The Annual Fallen Firefighters and EMS Memorial Service will be held June 3 at noon at the Richmond International Raceway.

To learn more about the Virginia Department of Health Office of EMS, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/emergency-medical-services/.

COVIDWISE Exposure Notifications App to be Retired When the National Public Health Emergency Comes to an End

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced today that the COVIDWISE Exposure Notifications App will be retired when the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) disables the National Key Server as the National Public Health Emergency comes to a close on May 11.

More than 3 million users downloaded the COVIDWISE app and/or turned on COVIDWISE Express, an app-less version exclusively for iPhone users. COVIDWISE has alerted thousands of users if they have been in close contact with an individual who anonymously reported a positive COVID-19 test result. The app and COVIDWISE Express has used Bluetooth technology to quickly notify users likely exposed to COVID-19 with the goal of reducing the risk of infection and stopping disease transmission.

“COVIDWISE brought us cutting-edge technology as we responded to one of the biggest public health threats in modern times,” said State Health Commissioner Karen Shelton, M.D. “With this technology, public health agencies put information directly into the hands of citizens, providing them with a tool and information to protect themselves and others around them.”

The free COVIDWISE app, which launched in early August 2020, was the first exposure notifications app in the United States using the Google/Apple framework. No personal data has ever been collected, stored, tracked or transmitted to VDH as part of the app or Express version.

“We stated from day one that when COVIDWISE was no longer needed, VDH would take the app down,” says Jeff Stover, VDH Chief of Staff. “We are following through on that commitment to the public.”

COVIDWISE works across state boundaries, including Washington D.C. and more than 20 states that have similar exposure notification systems using the National Key Server. This has allowed users to receive exposure notifications from people in participating states or jurisdictions.

The app has been updated several times and has included options to help users find and schedule vaccine appointments and access other valuable vaccination-related information, including the user’s COVID-19 vaccine record.

Virginia’s public service video promoting use of exposure notifications, “Students for COVIDWISE,” won a silver Telly Award in 2021 and was nominated for two Emmy Awards in 2020.

When the app is disabled on May 11, users may simply delete it from their phones. COVIDWISE Express users can turn off exposure notifications in Settings.  Regardless, the Bluetooth technology that enables COVIDWISE to operate will no longer work for the app or COVIDWISE Express. The retirement of COVIDWISE does not impact COVID-19 surveillance activities, which will continue as part of VDH’s ongoing COVID response.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. To access your COVID—19 vaccine record, visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Record Request Portal.

Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Seeks Public Help to Identify Skeletal Remains

Yesterday, Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) released facial approximations of eight skeletal remains found in the Central Virginia region.  The facial images represent the eight men whose remains were found in separate locations between 1988 and 2020.

“Many of these cases have remained unidentified for decades,” said Lara Newell, the long-term unidentified coordinator for OCME. “The goal is to get the information and the likenesses out into the public in the hopes that they will be recognized, and eventually identified.”

The facial approximations were created from CT scans of the skulls and examinations of the remains by the FBI Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Imaging Units at no cost to OCME or law enforcement.

Photographs of the facial approximations have been entered into the case files of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems (NamUs). NamUs is a web-based computer search engine funded by the National Institute of Justice to facilitate matching missing and unidentified persons.

Information on the unidentified individuals is as follows:

The skeletal remains of a White male, approximately 39-64 years old, were found in an overgrown area near a pathway in the City of Richmond on July 2, 2020. Cause and manner of death undetermined. The individual is approximately 5’2” to 5’7” in height and had healed fractures to nose, ribs and shoulder (clavicle). Fractures to nose would have caused deviation to the left. NamUs ID: 72826
The skeletal remains of a Black male, approximately 33-49 years old, were found in the rear yard of a residential area within the floodplain of the James River in the City of Richmond on March 7, 2016. Cause and manner of death undetermined. The individual is approximately 5’9” to 6’3” in height and had healed fracture of the right knee, may have walked with a limp/locked knee. May have been partially deaf in the left ear due to trauma (healing). NamUs ID: 14889
The skeletal remains of a Hispanic male, approximately 25-35 years old, were found in a wooded area in Highland Springs in Henrico County on January 28, 2014. Cause of death is homicidal violence of undetermined etiology, and the manner is homicide. The individual is approximately 4’8” to 5’3” in height and has had numerous dental restorations. NamUs ID: 12242
The skeletal remains of a Black male, approximately 50-70 years old, were found in an industrial area by construction crews in the City of Richmond on September 26, 2000. Cause and manner of death undetermined. The individual is approximately 5’2” to 5’9” in height and healed rib and lower left leg fractures. NamUs ID: 6148
The skeletal remains of a Black male, approximately 34-68 years old, were found in a residential area in the City of Richmond on October 23, 1995. Cause and manner of death undetermined. The individual is approximately 5’9” in height and had jaw fracture. NamUs ID: 903
The skeletal remains of a White male, approximately 45-65 years old, were found in a wooded area in Brunswick County by a hunter on January 1, 1990. Cause and manner of death are undetermined. The individual had healed facial and abdominal trauma, possibly from a car accident or another traumatic event, 15 years prior to death. NamUs ID: 6513
The skeletal remains of two white Hispanic males were found in a wooded area in Ruther Glen in Caroline County by hunters on November 10, 1988. The older male is approximately 35-45 years old and between 5’5” and 5’9” in height.  The younger male is approximately 17-25 years old and is approximately 5’6” in height.  DNA indicates a possible parent-child relationship. Cause death was blunt force injury to the head and the manner is listed as homicide. NamUs IDs: 6507 (older) and 6301 (younger)

The facial approximations are online at www.vdh.virginia.gov/medical-examiner/looking-for-a-missing-person/.

Anyone with any information about the possible identity of any of these cases is asked to call the Central District – OCME at (804) 786-3174 or email at OCME_CENT@vdh.virginia.gov.

Currently, Virginia has 224 unidentified remains statewide, with some remains dating back to 1948.