HAMPTON ROADS, Va.— Virginia became the 16th state to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent of adults receiving one vaccine dose by July 4, beating the deadline by two weeks, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday.
Local health officials credit the efforts of neighborhood and pop-up vaccination events once demand for the vaccine waned in May.
“We've seen the lowest rates of COVID that we have at any point during this pandemic. This last week, we averaged about 139 new cases a day for the entire state. We haven't seen that since March of 2020,” said Dr. Danny Avula, who heads the state’s vaccination program.
Even with the major milestone for vaccinations in Virginia, the Hampton Roads region is still playing catch up.
Many of the seven cities are hovering around the 55 percent mark for adults with one dose; meanwhile, Norfolk and Portsmouth are trailing the pack, with a rate of just 44% and 47%, respectively.
“We really do need 70 - 80 percent of the entire population to get vaccinated so that we can not worry about a big surge this coming winter, and that's particularly of concern as we hear about variants impacting other countries and even becoming a bigger part of the mix here in the United States,” said Avula.
Avula says the concern now is getting ahead of a possible winter surge by vaccinating as many people as possible before cooler weather arrives.
“In the winter months, people are spending much longer periods of time - and more time with more people - in indoor settings. And so, that is a higher risk scenario. We see this with all kinds of respiratory diseases with flu, with various cold viruses, and so we expect COVID to follow the same pattern."
There’s no approved vaccine for children under 12, but experts anticipate that will change this fall.
“Probably in October or so we'll see an improved vaccine for younger kids, and then that will lead to a big push in pediatricians offices and schools to get that segment of the population vaccinated,” said Avula.
Until then, children are encouraged to wear masks for extended periods of time indoors.
Masks should also still be worn by those who are able to while in healthcare facilities, congregate settings like a nursing home or when taking public transportation like a plane.