CHARLESTON, WV (AP)- West Virginia is rapidly deploying doses of the coronavirus vaccine to residents and workers at long-term care centers, setting an ambitious target of vaccinating all facilities within three weeks.
The state with one of the oldest and most at-risk populations is prioritizing its care center residents alongside health workers. Officials are working with small and local pharmacies to reach long-term care communities across the rural state, leapfrogging most states that are relying on a partnership with CVS and Walgreens to kick in any day now.
“We’re making progress towards being the first in the nation to vaccinate all nursing homes and assisted livings in our state,” said Marty Wright, head of the West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living communities.
Wright said nearly 2,000 doses were administered to workers and residents across 18 care centers on Tuesday. He said pharmacies expect to reach 48 facilities and get 7,000 doses into arms by the end of the week. That would mean about a quarter of the state’s facilities would have received the first of two required doses.
Gov. Jim Justice said on Wednesday the agreement with CVS and Walgreens will begin on Dec. 21, further speeding up vaccinations at nursing homes. He said 40% of West Virginia’s pharmacies are not affiliated with chains, so the state “partnered with all the pharmacies” to reach smaller communities.
The West Virginia National Guard said that people at Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown, the first facility in the state to report a COVID-19 outbreak in March, received vaccinations on Tuesday.
Deaths at U.S. nursing homes have accounted for about 40% of all coronavirus deaths.
“The current objective, on long-term care facilities getting the first dose of the vaccine, would be no longer than 30 days,” Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, head of the National Guard, said this week. “But we believe we can accomplish it in potentially three weeks with perfect coordination with our long-term care facilities.”
The state surpassed 1,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 this week and reported 27 more on Wednesday. There are 21,260 active cases of the virus in the state and hospitalizations have recently reached record highs. The daily positivity rate has increased to 10.27%, far above what health officials hope for.
The state has recorded a total of 55,536 confirmed cases and at least 1,039 deaths.
The governor and four top officials received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on camera on Monday. He said he wanted to demonstrate the safety of the vaccine, even as many other governors wait for their turn in line behind first responders.
Justice said the state aims to open up vaccinations to the general population in March, starting with people over the age of 65 and next moving to anyone over 50 with preexisting conditions.
West Virginia expects to receive tens of thousands of doses a week initially, ramping up in the future as Moderna looks to soon gain federal emergency use authorization for its vaccine.