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West Virginians Over 80 Moved Up in Vaccine Priority

Photo courtesy W.Va. Governor’s Office – Gov. Jim Justice discusses the state’s move to begin immediately vaccinating state residents age 80 and older. He also announced that elementary and middle school students would return to full-time in-person learning on Jan. 19.

CHARLESTON — West Virginians in the older, at-risk population for COVID-19 infection now will be able to get vaccinated starting with residents age 80 and older.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday that vaccinations for people in the general population ages 80 and older would be available as soon as Wednesday.

“The faster that we can get shots in arms of people, especially of significant age, the more lives we’re going to save,” Justice said during his Wednesday coronavirus briefing. “This is boiling down to minutes, not days.”

Justice said the state is working with 82 organizations to help administer the doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Justice said the West Virginia National Guard will hold vaccination events at National Guard armories and selected sites on a first-come-first-serve basis. Further details, such as times and locations, will be available soon at the website governor.wv.gov.

In Charleston, people looking for vaccines already had lined up Wednesday afternoon at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, according to spokeswoman Lori Kersey.

“Ideally, all these individuals would have had the opportunity to schedule an appointment,” she wrote in a statement sent Wednesday afternoon. “That’s not how it’s working today. We continue to process people as quickly and efficiently as possible and request your indulgence in cooperation.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 80,000 West Virginians between the ages of 80 and 89. West Virginians between 80-89 make up 4.4 percent of the state’s population, but account for 31.9 percent of the state’s 1,318 COVID-19 deaths.

Justice said once the age 80 and older population has been vaccinated, the state will make vaccines available to people between 70 and 79 followed by people in their 60s as long as vaccines are available. In the state’s vaccine plan, seniors in the general population plan would get the vaccine in phase 2.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations last week calling on states to move seniors age 75 and older up in vaccine priority. According to Forbes, at least 21 states have either followed the new CDC guidelines or prioritized seniors age 65 and older in their vaccine plans.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the state received 86,800 vaccines as of Dec. 14, with 37,862 vaccines already administered as part of phase 1 of the state’s vaccine distribution plans. More than 43 percent of the received vaccines have been administered and more than 2 percent of the state’s 1.8 million residents have been vaccinated, making West Virginia the top state for vaccine distribution.

Justice urged the public to be patient as the state works out the details of vaccine distribution to the senior population.

“We’ve got to do it with the resources at hand,” Justice said. “We can’t give out 50,000 doses of vaccines if all we’ve got is 10,000. We’re only going to be able to give doses on a first-come-first-serve basis with the number we have at those locations. We cannot do more than what we have, but we can get them out fast and get them to the people who need them the most. Then we can cry to the mountaintops to get more.”

The state distributed vaccine doses in phase 1 to all long-term care facilities, hospitals, and health departments to vaccine frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff. State officials announced Wednesday that teachers and education staff age 50 and older will be vaccinated over the next two weeks.

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