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More vaccines are coming to W.Va.

CHARLESTON — Another 20,000 doses of vaccine are coming to West Virginia next week, enabling a greater emphasis on vaccinations in the Eastern Panhandle, state officials said Wednesday.

The number of doses will increase from around 52,000 to 72,000, Gov. Jim Justice said during his Wednesday morning pandemic briefing. Jefferson and Berkeley counties have the smallest percentages of fully vaccinated residents, 6.8 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively.

“I have ordered the Joint Interagency Task Force to increase our capacity to deliver the vaccines to our Eastern Panhandle and amp that up as well all across the state,” Justice said.

The task force has worked with West Virginia University Health Sciences and WVU Medicine to increase vaccines for the Eastern Panhandle, said James Hoyer, who heads the Joint Interagency Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccines.

“That effort is beginning as we speak now and will ramp up significantly next week as we see more vaccines,” he said.

To offer innovative ways for people to get vaccinations, churches, pastors and congregations, manufacturing, energy and retail sectors are encouraged to contact the state through the vaccination hotline to organize a clinic, Hoyer said.

The task force also is preparing for when vaccinations can be given 12- to 15-year-old residents, Hoyer said. Vaccines are being developed and are under study for youth in the 12-to-15 age group, he said.

Residents 16 and older can register for a vaccine on the state’s registration system at vaccinate.wv.gov or by calling 833 734-0965.

Also, another 9,500 doses of vaccine will be sent to the participating pharmacies in West Virginia, Hoyer said. Walgreens, Fruth, Medicine Shoppe-Leader and Walmart are participating in the Federal Pharmacy Program.

Information is available at vaccinefinder.org.

West Virginia is doing well relative to the remainder of the United States, but cases and hospitalizations have seen an upswing in the last week, said Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia coronavirus czar. The age of people affected is dropping as the older population is immunized, according to Marsh.

However, the state has detected 53 cases of the UK variant and more than 130 cases of the less-severe and less-lethal California variant mostly in border counties with other states, Marsh said. The California variant, while less severe, spreads 20 percent faster among people who are asymptomatic, he said.

“We don’t say that to scare anybody, but we do recognize that we’re seeing around the world, the countries that vaccinate the most aggressively … are the countries that are doing the best.”

The UK variant will become most predominant in the United States in the 30-to-50-year-old segment of the population, Marsh said. It is 50 percent more infectious and 50 percent more lethal.

“Now the time is very critical that we slow down the rate of spread, which we see happening in younger West Virginians and allow ourselves more time to vaccinate more and more people,” Marsh said. “The more people we vaccinate the more it stops the spread of COVID-19. It shows it down and stops it.”

Vaccinations also stop the spread of the variants, Marsh said.

“Right now, we are in a bit of race between how fast we can vaccinate our citizens and how fast this virus spreads, and it’s spreading in younger people,” he said. “And particularly in people in sports teams and those are situations where people aren’t wearing masks as effectively.”

The good news is the Pfizer vaccine for 12-to-15-year olds will soon be approved, he said.

Justice also announced a new electronic death reporting system will be installed for COVID-19 related deaths, a response to more than 200 residents who have died from COVID-19 complications, but were not properly reported.

For the governor, it’s an issue of respect for the families of the deceased. An investigation found there was no willful intent to cause incorrect data to be reported or not to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

A report on the investigation was released on Wednesday afternoon.

Justice read the age and counties of another 34 resident deaths, the youngest being a 34-year-old woman from Wayne County.

“West Virginia is one of the only states, now get this, one of the only states in the country that does not have that. We probably didn’t need that in West Virginia, at least we didn’t think we didn’t need that until we got into this situation. But once we got in this situation, our people at DHHR should have recognized this issue and moved. They didn’t move and everything and I am not happy about that.”

Because of the time lag involved to prepare and issue a death certificate, it is not possible to use the death certificate for real-time reporting in West Virginia, Justice said. The change should have already been done, he said.

“That has got to be changed and we have to get off the bubble and change that,” Justice said.

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