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Justice continues vaccine balancing act

CHARLESTON — As active COVID-19 cases continue to drop and hospital statistics decline at a slower rate, the head of West Virginia’s interagency task force on vaccines warned the latest surge probably won’t be the last.

“If we look back at the history of the 1918 pandemic, we have probably at least one more surge, and maybe another surge to come, in this country, and those can be mitigated by the number of West Virginians we get vaccinated,” task force leader James Hoyer said during Gov. Jim Justice’s virtual COVID briefing Monday.

“Our silver bullet is the vaccine,” he said. “We will do everything we can to educate more West Virginians to the value of the vaccine, so that they can make the right decision.”

After reading the ages and cities of residence for 110 more West Virginians whose deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 — 82 since his last briefing on Thursday and 28 found through a data reconciliation with death certificates — Justice said vaccination is “the only thing I know on Earth that can absolutely slow this thing down.” But he continued to emphasize he does not support requiring people to get the shots.

“As the weather gets bad, our kids in schools need to be vaccinated,” Justice said. “Whatever your choices are, the parent should be deciding. … We’re going to stand by our freedoms first and foremost.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said the Food and Drug Administration is expected to meet this week to consider approval of booster doses for the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, as well as whether doses of different vaccine types can be mixed and matched for those additional shots. A few weeks after that, they will take up the matter of COVID vaccinations for children ages 5-11, he said.

“That will likely be a different dose” than what has been administered to adults, Marsh said.

A recent study of more than 1,200 households in New York and Utah published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics found “about the same rate of infectability with COVID-19” for children and adults, Marsh said. It did indicate children were more likely to be asymptomatic, he said.

“Another recent study suggested that about a third of people who develop symptomatic COVID-19 were experiencing symptoms that were consistent with long COVID three to six months after recovering from the acute infection,” Marsh said. “So this infection is nothing to play around with.”

The second round of the Do It for Babydog vaccination sweepstakes ends tonight. Justice said more incentives are being considered, particularly for when vaccinations are authorized for younger children, but no details have been finalized.

Active cases stood at 10,561 Monday after reaching an all-time high of 29,744 on Sept. 16.

Around the state, 826 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday’s update. The peak was 1,012 on Sept. 24. Intensive care units housed 248 COVID patients, with 171 on ventilators. The highs for those numbers were 296 and 195, respectively.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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