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State pushes for data and booster shots

CHARLESTON — West Virginia is continuing to push for a “Battlefield Booster Assessment” program that could lead to an additional COVID vaccination for state residents.

The program was discussed during Gov. Jim Justice’s briefing with reporters on Wednesday. The Battlefield Assessment Program would be an opportunity for those over age 60 — vaccinated against COVID for more than six months — to volunteer to have their blood drawn and have their antibody levels measured.

The data would be used to assess the need for COVID booster shots.

Justice said he met with Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer and state COVID-19 czar Clay Marsh in Morgantown on Tuesday, and after discussion, the group was all but ready to begin dispensing booster shots. But Justice said since then Hoyer has told him the move could be cumbersome.

“There may be a way to reach out and … and allow West Virginia to be a trial state moving forward,” Justice said. “I really believe we have a vulnerable population, being as old as we are. With all the illnesses West Virginians have … we are putting a lot of people at risk who are 60 years old and older and are six months out from their first vaccine.

Marsh said the impetus behind the assessment was a need to get insight into how West Virginia’s older population is being affected by the COVID vaccinations.

A program would focus on those age 60 and older who had their initial vaccinations at least six months ago. Also included would be those more vulnerable to the virus because of health conditions, as well as those receiving the single-dose Johnson and Johnson shot, he said.

But before the state begins administering booster shots, officials first want to make certain West Virginia is in sync with directives from the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Committee on Immunization Practices, according to Marsh.

He said West Virginia’s population might just be the most vulnerable in the country, “and the population that would benefit the most from booster vaccines.”

The state is presently outlining a strategy where West Virginia would be a pilot site for the Battlefield Booster Assessment, and would gather real-world data to be shared nationally.

Those in the state could eventually be eligible for a booster shot based on this information, Marsh said.

Justice announced Wednesday there had been two more deaths attributed to COVID since Monday. These deaths bring the state’s total to 2,974 lost to COVID.

He said there had been 546 new positive cases of COVID in West Virginia reported since Tuesday morning, and 4,625 active cases in the state.

“The delta variant is here, and we urge and urge everyone to move and get vaccinated,” Justice said. “We’ve had 1,700 vaccinations since Monday. That’s good in a number of ways, but it is not enough. We don’t have people running to the fire like we should.”

He said 69.2% of West Virginia’s eligible population, those ages 12 and older, now has been given at least one dose of COVID vaccine.

“That’s good, but it is not good enough,” Justice said.

Marsh said if a person is fully vaccinated, they have 25 times the protections against COVID than if they don’t get the shot.

He acknowledged people still may contract the virus, but it will have less effect on a vaccinated person’s health.

“It may keep you from going to the hospital, to the ICU, or dying from COVID-19,” Marsh said.

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