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BOV Health System Board discusses vaccine distribution, Cancer Center advancements

General population expected to be vaccinated by end of May due to ‘extraordinary’ efforts by over 800 vaccine team members at U.Va. Health System

The Health System Board of the Board of Visitors met Thursday to share updates on COVID-19 care, vaccine rollout and on the U.Va. Health Cancer Center. The meeting was conducted virtually over Zoom and the open session was streamed live on YouTube. 

Dr. Craig Kent, executive vice president for Health Affairs, delivered opening remarks regarding the Health Center’s accomplishments concerning COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and care of hospitalized patients as well as their aspirations for the future of the Health Center in its journey to become one of the “best academic medical centers in the nation.”  

“The pandemic is still here and is challenging, and we continue to navigate but we’re really proud at U.Va. Health of what we’ve accomplished,” Kent said. “We’re testing in our community five days a week, our vaccination efforts have been first in class … our outcomes for our COVID patients are in the top decile of the country.”

Kent then introduced three new leaders of the U.Va. Health System — Dr. Art Saavedra, newly appointed chief of population health and health policy who will also continue to serve as chair of the Department of Dermatology; Mary Frances Southerland, newly appointed Chief of Administrative Officer; and Hannah Kenyon, the new deputy University counsel for health affairs. 

Dr. Reid Adams, chair of the Department of Surgery and chief medical officer, provided an update on COVID-19 cases, vaccination distribution and what the community can expect in the future in terms of a return to normalcy.

He acknowledged the spike Albemarle County and Charlottesville saw in COVID-19 cases over the past weeks, which he attributed widely to the record number of cases the University reported in February. According to Adams, this surge did not result in an increase of hospitalizations, and the number of hospitalizations has been trending downward since January and has stabilized at approximately 25 new patients per day. 

U.Va. Health saw a surge in hospitalizations after the Thanksgiving holiday with 45 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Dec. 16. Record daily COVID-19-related hospitalizations peaked Jan. 13 and 20 with 16 new hospitalizations per day. According to the University's COVID tracker, the seven-day moving average peaked Jan. 8 with 10 hospitalizations, and as of Thursday the average was down to 5.86. 

In terms of vaccination distribution, Adams praised the “extraordinary” efforts of 675 individuals who have served as vaccinators and the 129 volunteers who have contributed to distribution at U.Va. Health. He also mentioned the “overwhelming positive” response to the U.Va. Health System’s Seminole Square community vaccination site. The Seminole Square site opened on Jan. 31 and is located along a Charlottesville Area Transit service bus line, which provides free transportation to and from vaccination appointments for those who need it. 

So far, 55,206 total vaccinations have been administered by U.Va. Health, and 74 percent of healthcare team members have received both doses of the vaccine. According to Adams, 11 percent of Charlottesville and 13 percent of Albemarle residents are fully vaccinated. 

Novant Health U.Va. Health System — a regional health system in Northern Virginia operated by both Novant Health and the U.Va. Health system, which U.Va. Health intends to fully acquire as part of expansion efforts — has also administered over 30,000 vaccinations, including a “concerted effort” to vaccinate teachers in the Prince William County Public School District. 

Adams also addressed vaccine hesitancy among underserved communities that are often at high risk for serious illnesses from COVID-19. Efforts to overcome this hesitancy include developing education materials in multiple languages and eliminating confusion and misrepresentation on social media about distribution. 

In the next few months, Adams said to expect continued widespread distribution and administration of vaccine doses for individuals in all phases of Virginia's vaccine response plan. The Virginia Department of Health also recently launched a statewide system for vaccine pre-registration. 

“In the Commonwealth, we are currently finishing vaccination of the 75 and older group, anticipating vaccination of those 65 and older throughout March,” Adams said. “As this group is completed, we anticipate those between 16 and 64 with medical conditions to become vaccinated likely in April. We expect the general population [will be vaccinated] towards the end of May.”

He anticipates the Blue Ridge Health District — which includes Charlottesville and Albemarle County — will receive approximately 2,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine this week, which was just approved by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization last week. However, he noted uncertainty in the ongoing supply of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in the short term. While current supplies of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remain limited, Adams expects an increase in vaccine doses for the BRHD in early May. 

Finally, Adams addressed community concern about the presence of the B.1.1.7. U.K. variant. The University confirmed in February that there are cases of the U.K. variant in the University community, but previously has declined to reveal specific numbers relating to the presence of the variant.

There are 20 confirmed cases of the strain in the state, according to the CDC. 

“The implications of variants is that our current mitigation strategies remain critical to limiting transmission and new outbreaks,” Adams said. “The need for social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene remains.” 

In the second half of the meeting, Dr. Michael E. Williams, professor of pathology and medicine, delivered an update on the U.Va. Health Cancer Center. 

The U.Va. Cancer Center was recognized by the National Cancer Institute as one of 71 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers known for scientific leadership and research in cancer treatments. The Center is also pursuing further funding and designation as a Comprehensive Center by NIS — its employees have submitted an application for this designation and are awaiting review by the NIS. The NIS provides funding to these centers so they can continue to lead the community in cancer research and add “depth and breadth of research as well as substantial transdisciplinary research” to the field, according to their website. 

Williams emphasized the “impressive evolution” cancer treatment has undergone at the Cancer Center, saying that treatment has become more targeted and patient-specific for a “much better chance at a good outcome.” He gave specific examples of these targeted approaches in his presentation, including in treatments against lymphatic cancer. 

His presentation included information about the Cancer Center’s cellular therapy program and stem cell transplants. The Cancer Center has performed around 150 stem cell transplants, according to Williams, and these treatments are examples “of getting the most cutting-edge, important therapies to patients.” 

Williams also addressed philanthropy, showing comparisons of donations over the past four years, and noted lower contributions in 2020 because of COVID-19 — $18.6 million was given in the 2019 fiscal year compared to $5.6 million in the 2020 fiscal year. 

He closed with overviews of other clinical sites in the region and addressed questions about surgery in cancer care as well emerging treatments such as proton beam therapy, a type of radiation treatment that uses beams of high energy delivered by protons to target tumors, as opposed to traditional x-ray radiation. 

The Board then entered a closed session to discuss business-related information about operations about the Medical Center, the School of Medicine and the Transitional Care Hospital.