WVa fears vaccination slowdown as federal shipments lag

CHARLESTON, WV (AP)- West Virginia’s speedy coronavirus vaccination drive was facing a roadblock on Tuesday as state leaders said they didn’t receive an expected increase in doses this week.

With 99.6% of first doses on hand already administered, officials are clamoring for the federal government to send more vaccines.

“Here we are with no vaccines,” said Republican Gov. Jim Justice, fretting that other states have doses sitting unused. “We’ve got them all in people’s arms and we’ve done exactly what we should have done. … I think performance ought to be rewarded.”

He said the state hasn’t received a promised 25,000 additional doses this week on top of its usual weekly allocation, which is about 23,000.

In West Virginia, 7.4% of its 1.78 million population has received at least one of two doses, according to the latest state data, the highest among the 50 states. It has earned praise for having finished offering first doses to all nursing homes through more than 200 rural, small-town pharmacies, which have continued the fast pace to vaccinate teachers and other essential workers.

Justice said that vaccine eligibility would immediately open for people aged 65 and over, lowering it from 70, in line with recent new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent. Even though the state has few doses to give, the governor said he didn’t want federal officials to potentially hold back doses over noncompliance.

“It’s not acceptable to me,” Justice said. “If we don’t have the vaccines, we cannot get them in the arms.”

Nearly 132,200 people have received a first dose and 24,181 people are fully vaccinated. Less than 15% of the doses reserved for individuals getting their second shot is left. The vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two doses several weeks apart for full effectiveness.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, head of the West Virginia National Guard, said he aims to reach 120,000 vaccinations a week. West Virginia University said it will open a new vaccination clinic in Morgantown this week.

But the vaccination slowdown comes as the governor pushes to reopen as many schools as possible for in-person instruction. On Tuesday, 48 counties were set to have elementary, middle and high school classes face-to-face, although some counties didn’t go back to high school due to the severe spread of COVID-19 in the area, said Dale Lee, president of the largest teachers union in West Virginia.

The state began vaccinating school workers and teachers aged 50 and older about two weeks ago.

“I’m worried for our educators and our students and the families,” said Lee, who is head of the West Virginia Education Association, which has blasted the governor’s rush to reopen schools.

Justice has said the vast majority of students are failing core classes with virtual learning.

Last week, West Virginia saw the lowest number of virus cases since late December, with about 5,900 confirmed cases. The number of people hospitalized from the virus on Sunday, 643, was the lowest number since Dec. 7.

However, there were 202 virus-related deaths last week, which followed a record 206 deaths in the previous week.

The state announced 31 new deaths on Tuesday and 528 new confirmed cases.

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