CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s coronavirus vaccination campaign will turn to young people to stem transmission rates after giving shots to most senior citizens.
The new strategy to focus on shots for residents aged 16 to 29 comes after officials said they are seeing an increase in doses.
“When you have the resources available, you open up multiple fronts against the enemy to deplete their capability,” James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force, said Wednesday. “In this case the virus is the enemy.”
Republican Gov. Jim Justice said more than 70% of residents aged 65 and over are at least partially vaccinated, but he set a new goal of covering 85% of that population. But he said the state’s focus could now begin shifting to high school and college students and other young adults.
“We’re seeing significant transmission occurring with our younger people,” Justice said. Justice opened up vaccinations to all West Virginians aged 16 and over Monday.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said younger and older people are turning up sicker at hospitals, which he attributed to variants of the coronavirus circulating. The number of coronavirus patients has increased 40% in under two weeks to 212 people.
The state has approximately 24 confirmed cases of the UK coronavirus variant, according to state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad. It is one of the variants spreading in the United States that researchers believe may spread more easily.
“We’ve absolutely got a transmission issue that we need to jump back on and cut this thing off at its knees,” Justice said.
Hoyer said the state expects an increase in its federal delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the only one that currently is allowed for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Justice also announced the state will devote 10,000 doses to work directly with manufacturing companies and small businesses to vaccinate employees on site. He said the state has already worked with Toyota and Procter & Gamble.
Three new regional vaccine clinics are also opening in Kanawha, Berkeley and Monongalia counties for residents 65 and over, who can show up without an appointment to receive a shot.
About 25% of the state’s 1.78 million population is currently partially vaccinated. Over 15% are fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,619 people in West Virginia. Six new deaths were reported Wednesday.
Residents can pre-register for a vaccine at vaccinate.wv.gov or call 1-833-734-0965. Some pharmacies, such as Walgreens, are also independently booking appointments.