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Officials announce additional details on senior, teacher vaccinations

CHARLESTON — Additional locations for COVID-19 vaccinations for West Virginians age 80 and older were announced Wednesday, with more details for vaccinating teachers and staff age 50 and older to be announced later today.

Gov. Jim Justice along with state health and coronavirus response officials announced Operation: Save Our Wisdom during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Operation: S.O.W. began last Wednesday with vaccinations of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for state residents age 80 and older first, eventually moving to residents age 70 and older and 60 and older. It continues this week, with additional doses being sent to county health departments and federally funded health clinics.

“We can’t let the wisdom just die away,” Justice said. “We’ve got to have the wisdom for our young that are coming on. For all these people who have that wisdom, we’re trying in every way in the world to save you today because you’re so precious to us in every way.”

Justice said vaccinations of teachers and school service personnel age 50 and older will start today with additional information coming from the Department of Education to county school systems. Vaccinations for other healthcare workers, such as home health, started this week with higher education staff age 50 and older as part of the state’s phase 1 vaccine distribution plan.

Balancing vaccine distribution for essential workers in phase 1 and getting seniors vaccinated is a challenge, Justice said. The governor compared it to balancing the maintenance of secondary roads with new road construction projects through the Roads to Prosperity program.

“We’ve got to allocate so many vaccines to our elderly while still being able to maintain and do everything else,” Justice said. “In this situation, we’ve got to make sure that we’re fixing all the potholes and all the elderly and everyone we can possibly help.”

The state had already completed vaccine distribution to frontline healthcare workers, pharmacies, and long-term care facilities. Residents and staff of nursing homes started to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine this week.

State officials said residents in the 80-and-older age range can still call their local health departments and schedule an appointment on a first-come-first-serve basis depending on availability of doses at those locations. Justice told seniors who haven’t been able to make an appointment to not lose hope.

“Just know that more vaccines are coming each week, and the local health departments will regularly be receiving it,” Justice said. “We should make sure that all West Virginians have access to a vaccine as we work through the allocation and phases.”

James Hoyer, the newly retired adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard and the leader of the state’s interagency task force for vaccines, encouraged health departments and other partners to continue encouraging appointments for people to receive vaccines.

“We believe that is the most effective and efficient way to do it and prevents people from showing up and us running out of vaccines,” Hoyer said.

Justice also announced specific times and locations for vaccine clinics across the state for residents age 80 and older. Hoyer said additional locations and partners will come online each week.

“We are attempting to get, based on availability, as many as 650 vaccines at each location if those are available based on what we have put through the system so far,” Hoyer said. “As these clinics continue and vaccines come available … we’ll continue to increase those dose counts.”

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