Virginia’s Covid Vaccination Plan – Nothing to Exercise

by James C. Sherlock

I have read a lot of speculation here on who is responsible for the mess that has been the distribution and administration of COVID vaccines.

I will try offer some clarification.

On a day-to-day basis, people get flu shots or shingles shots or whatever from a lot of different providers. The normal pharmaceutical distribution system handles the supply chain.

Emergency planning guidance for pandemic emergency distribution and administration of vaccines is contained in Virginia’s famously shy Emergency Operations Plan – HAZARD-SPECIFIC ANNEX #4 PANDEMIC INFLUENZA RESPONSE of 2012.

Planning assumptions included:

– Pre-event planning is critical to ensure a prompt and effective response to a pandemic influenza, as its spread will be rapid, recurring (in multiple waves), and difficult to stop once it begins. …
– Vaccines will not be available for approximately six months following identification of the virus and will be in limited quantities when made available, necessitating the need to develop and implement a distribution plan.


“All agencies assigned responsibilities within this annex will develop and maintain the necessary plans, standard operating procedures, mutual aid agreements, and model contracts to successfully accomplish their tasks.”

That pandemic vaccine distribution plan was the responsibility of the Department of Health since 2012. It did not create one.

A vaccination plan would have at least taken a shot at:

  • the most efficient and effective approaches and priorities with which to orchestrate vaccine distribution and the vaccination 8 million Virginians; and
  • the communications and registration systems required to make it work.

Exercises would have smoothed out at least some of the rough spots. Exercises are not a fantasy.

Under the National Exercise Program FEMA funds state and local exercises and provides exercise tools.

There were four two-year National Exercise cycles between the development of Annex 4 and the arrival of COVID.

Each cycle offered a pandemic response component. Virginia chose not to participate in that portion of the program.

Now we know why.

The VDH career employees had not done the next level of planning that was required by Annex 4. There was nothing to exercise.

So spare us all the shoulda’s and woulda’s. Didn’t.