Protecting West Virginians’ Health

West Virginia falls behind most other states when it comes to handling threats of infectious disease, according to a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Only nine states scored lower in infectious-disease preparedness.

Funding for public health programs was not increased or maintained last year. At least half of the population ages 6 or older was not vaccinated against the flu last season. And, West Virginia did not meet a federal goal of vaccinating 90 percent of preschoolers against whooping cough.

In addition, West Virginia neither requires nor funds cervical cancer vaccines for teens, nor does it educate parents and guardians about the vaccine, which fends off human papillomavirus. Finally, the report found West Virginia does not have a plan for severe weather, air quality or other environment threats as they relate to public health concerns; nor did state public health officials evaluate an emergency management plan using a real event or exercise last year.

There are good points in the report, including West Virginia having mandated facility reporting of infections and Medicare coverage of routine HIV screening. The state can also handle a surge in testing in response to an outbreak of disease.

But, “we can’t become complacent against the threat that (infectious diseases) pose,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health.

Public health officials are no doubt doing a lot of good work. But this report reveals disturbing holes in statewide efforts.

When it comes to vaccinations that save lives and planning that could keep us all safer, it is clear more needs to be done now if West Virginia is to avoid a health crisis in the future.