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Justice addresses vaccine hesitancy

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice has several ideas for getting the remaining unvaccinated portion of West Virginia’s eligible population to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but very few specific plans to accomplish this goal.

When asked about whether the state had a specific plan for vaccine hesitancy during his Monday COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol Building, Justice didn’t answer the question. Instead, Justice chose to either focus on ideas with no concrete proposals on how to accomplish those ideas.

These ideas include using fixed and mobile vaccine clinic sites; setting up at fairs, festivals, sporting events and other high-traffic locations; setting up vaccine sites at state and national parks, mall, and shopping center parking lots; and partnering with community and business groups. Justice even called on businesses to offer discounts to vaccinated residents.

Justice said state health officials also want to start going door-to-door to offer vaccines, partnering with Meals on Wheels, home health agencies, and other community groups who aid the home-bound. Officials are working with the state’s hospitals to offer vaccines before patients are discharged, partnering with doctors’ offices to engage with their local communities about the safety of the vaccines, along with other communications strategies to reach eligible teenagers and young adults.

“If we have to go door-to-door, we’ll go door-to-door,” Justice said. “It’s a crying shame when you think about it to know that we have to do any and everything to be able to get our people finally across the top of the mountain.

“I’m respectful and can understand some of these fears of the bogeyman that people put in people’s minds, but really and truly we know these vaccines are incredibly safe and we know the absolute exposure for what can happen and what is happening all over this land,” Justice continued. “We’ve got to keep on our toes here.”

Even Justice’s proposal last week of offering $100 savings bonds to residents age 16 to 35 was more of an idea than something that was a sure thing. Justice said the Governor’s Office is still working with the U.S. Treasury Department to find out if savings bonds are possible through the state’s remaining federal C.A.R.E.S. Act funds. Originally a certificate, savings bonds are purchased electronically now.

“That process is not what it was at one time. That is causing us an issue,” Justice said. “We’ve been with the Treasury Department over and over and over trying to figure out a way for us to do all of this.”

The state might have to consider gift cards along with silver dollars — both of which bring their own issues.

“I wanted to have some level of patriotic flavor to it, but nevertheless … if it comes down to a card you swipe and the card itself is something you can keep that has a real patriotic flavor to it, great. Maybe we can add with it a silver dollar? I’m wanting some way to have something our kids can keep along with them absolutely having the money.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, 598,556 residents — or 40.7 percent of eligible West Virginians –are fully vaccinated with either the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, or the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. As of Monday, 715,080 West Virginians are partially vaccinated.

Active COVID-19 cases have largely remained flat the last two weeks, with the last seven days averaging 250 new cases per day. Active cases were at 7,201 as of Sunday, up from 6,965 last Monday. Deaths remain low, and hospitalizations have stayed flat as well. Health officials said most of the new cases are being driven in part by teenagers and young adults and by some of the COVID-19 variants.

While Justice and officials continue to develop plans to increase the number of West Virginians receiving shots in arms, fear continues to be a go-to. Invoking India — a country that jumped from a seven-day case average of 11,145 on Feb. 11 to 373,193 cases as of Sunday — Justice warned young West Virginians and those hesitant about the vaccines to get the shot or end up like India.

“Come on, West Virginia. If you don’t just want to line up the body bags, come on. Absolutely step up,” Justice said. “Look at those great people in the country of India … see how many people you see on TV that you see a nurse or a doctor doing the compressions for CPR on somebody who looks like they’re 30-years-old. What would they give to have what we have?”

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