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Local Leaders Urge Public to Get Their COVID Shots

Photo by Eric Ayres Wheeling-Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble discusses during Tuesday's Wheeling City Council meeting the need for residents to get vaccinated.

WHEELING — Officials in Wheeling and Ohio County are urging citizens to resist “hesitancy” and get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible so the community can safely return to normalcy.

Officials said hesitancy to get vaccinated will only cause the pandemic — and related health and safety restrictions — to continue being part of our lives. In the meantime, health officials say they’ll have to discard expired vaccine doses and business leaders say local shops continue to bear the brunt.

Wheeling City Council members passed a resolution Tuesday supporting efforts of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department and encouraging citizens to receive the vaccine. Council also welcomed Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble and Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce President Erikka Storch to speak in support of this issue.

“Here in this county and in this state, hesitancy with vaccination is becoming a big problem,” Gamble said. “By the end of the week, we will be throwing away vaccine because we cannot use it. There’s no one to take it. I have vaccine that will expire. It will — you can’t do anything about that. But the number of people signing up and attending our vaccine clinics is drifting off.”

Gamble said locally, about 70% of the local population ages 65 and older have been vaccinated, which is good. He said some of those people in high-risk categories have been vaccinated because they are a “captured audience” in a nursing home or assisted living, while others in that age group know the benefits of vaccines because they’re already lived through polio.

“They stood in line in the 1950s until they got it,” Gamble said of those who received the polio vaccine. “Nowadays, we take a risk because we’ve become medical experts because we attended Facebook University. You shouldn’t be hesitant. If you have questions on vaccine, call your physician, ask a medical provider or ask one of us over at the health department.”

There are areas around the globe such as India where the coronavirus is still causing havoc, Gamble said. The last thing he wants to see is the same thing happening locally due to vaccine hesitancy.

Storch stressed the importance of returning to normalcy for the sake of local businesses, and that vaccinations are the key for that to happen.

“Last week at the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Board meeting, we approved a letter to be issued to show our support of the initiative of the city of Wheeling to encourage those to get vaccinated as a method to get our community back open,” Storch said. “Several of our business members have suffered due to closures and the restrictions placed on their businesses. We just believe that if we can get them vaccinated, get as many people vaccinated as possible, we can be returning to a normal as soon as possible.”

Wheeling Hospital’s website allows visitors to easily register for an appointment to get a vaccine at The Highlands. For those who don’t use a computer, Gamble said walk-ins are welcome at clinics, which are open from 8 a.m. To 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“In a little while, we think Pfizer will reduce the age of use from 16 to 12 years of age,” Gamble said. “If that happens, we have to mobilize very quickly to capture that group — 12-to-15-year-olds.”

All three forms of the vaccine — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are available at the county vaccination clinic at The Highlands. Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said that in large part, the community has done well with getting vaccinated, but it can do better.

“We really want to emphasize the importance of the vaccines and the importance of getting our community back open again,” Elliott said. “It really only works if enough of us get that vaccine and achieve herd immunity.”

“While no one will be forced to receive the vaccine, we highly encourage our residents to trust science and the medical community and get vaccinated,” Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said. “Increasing the number of people receiving the vaccine will put us one step closer to eradicating the virus.”

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