Vaccinations among young remain low
CHARLESTON — While West Virginia is set to quickly reach new goals set for vaccinating the state’s older population against COVID-19 and its Delta variant, getting eligible children and young adults vaccinated remains a struggle.
According to James Hoyer, leader of the state’s joint interagency task force for vaccines, only 46.9 percent of West Virginians between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, while only 41 percent of residents between the ages of 12 and 17 are partially vaccinated.
“Going into the school year, we need to work cooperatively across West Virginia to make sure we get those young people who are now more vulnerable to these variants vaccinated,” Hoyer said during Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing. “I ask all West Virginians to work to get educated and do the best we can to get those numbers where they need to be to protect our fellow citizens.”
West Virginia’s vaccination numbers for children and young adults pale in comparison to the success the state has had with getting older West Virginians — arguably the most at risk for severe symptoms, hospitalizations, and deaths — vaccinated.
Gov. Jim Justice announced new goals for partial vaccine rates for older West Virginians two weeks ago — 90 percent for those age 65 and older and 85 percent for those age 50 and up. As of Thursday, nearly 89 percent of residents age 65 and older had one vaccine dose and nearly 82 percent of residents age 50 and older had one dose.
State officials are continuing their push to see more West Virginians vaccinated before the state starts seeing more cases of the more contagious Delta/India COVID-19 variant. Cases of the Delta variant increased by nearly 60 percent since Tuesday, from 22 cases to 35 cases. That’s nearly 3 percent of the state’s 1,225 active COVID-19 cases, but health experts don’t expect those numbers to remain low for long.
“I am very worried,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar. “It’s really important that we see the Delta variant as not kind of what we saw before. This is a different disease; this is much worse. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but the more I’m learning about this, the more worried I’m getting.”
Justice and state health officials said Tuesday they see no immediate need to return to some of the restrictions put in place 14 months ago to limit virus spread, including indoor mask mandates. They also don’t see a need to require masks for K-12 schools and colleges and universities. But Justice said he will follow the advice of Marsh and other state health officials should the need to reinstitute restrictions arise.
“I think it’s way, way too premature to start a rumor and everything that we’re going to go back into masks,” Justice said. “For right now I’m not on board with the masks and I hope and pray I won’t have to get on board. I will tell you this, and you can bank on this: if the medical experts advise … and things are getting tough in West Virginia, I’m going to try with all in us to protect West Virginians.”