(VM) – Virginia’s first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, distributed and administered at hospitals across the state, were greeted with accolades — and relief — by health care providers, state leaders and a public that’s endured nearly 10 months of a deadly and disruptive global pandemic.
But neither the state Department of Health nor the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, a key partner in distributing the vaccine, will disclose the names of the 18 hospital facilities that received the state’s initial doses — or the health care systems to which they belong.
Some of those systems have chosen to publicly announce their first deliveries this week, often through coordinated news conferences that allowed reporters to watch frontline hospital workers receive the long-awaited injections. At least seven hospital systems issued news releases, including UVA Health, Carilion Clinic, Sentara Healthcare, Fauquier Health, Valley Health, Augusta Health and VCU Health.
Vaccines were also received and administered at INOVA in Northern Virginia and Ballad Health, which covers much of Southwestern Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Some systems, including Riverside, acknowledged they received the vaccine, but declined to name the specific facilities where it was shipped.
Erin Beard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health, said Thursday that the 18 locations weren’t being named “primarily for security reasons.” Julian Walker, the vice president of communications for VHHA, said hospitals had the option to disclose the shipments but might be hesitant to attract wide public attention.
“The normal business of providing medical care to patients, including non-COVID-19 patients, is still ongoing during the pandemic,” he said. “So as not to create a spectacle, so as not to create public confusion — I think for all those reasons and for others, there just hasn’t been the desire to publicly identify every facility that’s received an allocation of vaccine.”
But other medical providers in Virginia say the lack of transparency is troubling, especially given the role health systems in Virginia have been given in deploying the vaccine. Like the rest of the country, Virginia is administering doses from Pfizer — currently the only pharmaceutical company that’s received an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Another vaccine by Moderna is expected to be approved as early as Friday).
While VDH orders the vaccine, it’s shipped directly to the 18 facilities selected by the agency in partnership with VHHA. State health officials have said hospitals were chosen largely based on their geographic locations — important when it comes to distributing doses to the rest of the state — and their ability to store the vaccine, which requires ultra-cold temperatures around -94 degrees Fahrenheit.