Dr. Clay Marsh: New COVID-19 vaccines are ‘game-changing’

CHARLESTON – Calling them “game-changing,” West Virginia’s coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh on Monday urged West Virginians to receive one of several COVID-19 vaccines when the time comes.

“When it’s your turn, please get vaccinated,” Marsh, the vice president and executive dean of WVU Health Sciences, said Monday during Governor Jim Justice’s COVID-19 response press briefing.

“The way these vaccines go through the FDA approval process, each West Virginian should feel comfortable that the vaccine is safe to take from the standpoint of the clinical trials that are ongoing,” Marsh said. Marsh’s comments about the vaccines being ‘game-changing’ referred to how quickly they were developed with the support of an influx of federal dollars.

Two COVID-19 vaccines – one made by Pfizer and BioNTech and another by Moderna – have been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization.

West Virginia is scheduled to receive the first 16,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is reportedly 95 percent effective, by Dec. 15, Justice first announced Friday.

Justice and Marsh explained a few details about how the vaccines will work, saying both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be administered in two dosages and the two can’t be substituted for one another.

“We are going to get 16,575 Pfizer [vaccine dosages] at the end of this week or next week,” Justice said Monday. “If you get the first shot, the federal government has guaranteed us that we will be getting the second shot. We have 60,000 people in Phase 1 (of vaccine administration).”

The governor said the second dosage of the Pfizer vaccine is administered 21 days after the first dosage, while the second of two Moderna shots are given 28 days later.

“You cannot comingle the two,” Justice said. “You can’t take one Pfizer (shot) and one Moderna. From the standpoint of you getting COVID, there’s no way, at least that’s what I’ve been told. There are a few minor, minor side effects but it has been proven out by the CDC, and the FDA is blessing it with rave reviews. As far as its efficiency, it’s at 95 percent, so that couldn’t be better.”

Marsh said people who receive either vaccine – the Moderna vaccine is reportedly 94.1 percent effective – should expect minor arm pain upon receiving the first dose and potential “short-lived cold symptoms” following the second dose.

“It cannot give you COVID,” Marsh said. “That (the cold-like symptoms) is just the body responding to that immune system activation.”

“There’s no ability for these vaccines to implant anything that reads people’s minds or controls people,” Marsh said. “That’s fantasy.”

What’s still unknown is exactly how long COVID-19 vaccines will last, Justice said.

During the Dec. 7 press briefing, Justice said wearing masks and practicing good hand-washing hygiene remained the state’s only defense against COVID-19 until vaccines become available, adding that he believes shutting down the state wouldn’t make much of a difference.

“Sixty percent of the state is red or orange,” he said. “We can’t show that anything we do other than wearing your mask is going to make any substantial difference. Every indicator about this is, ‘take the vaccine, it breaks the chain.’ Until you and the people who live in West Virginia are vaccinated, the absolute best defense is wear mask and take the vaccine.”

“I’ve said enough about face coverings,” Justice added. “I’ve said it until I’m blue-green in the face.”

According to press releases from the governor’s office, West Virginia plans to receive an initial allocation of approximately 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and soon after, an approximate initial allocation of 26,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

In accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the first-available vaccine doses will be distributed to healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, individuals critical to community infrastructure and emergency response, public health officials and first responders.

More than 100,000 West Virginia residents make up this initial group, according to information from the governor’s office.

Learn more about COVID-19 mRNA on the CDC’s website here.

Also on Monday, Justice announced the establishment of a children’s crisis and referral line, which is a partnership between the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and First Choice Services. The purpose of the line is to “interrupt behavioral health crises and connect families and youths with behavioral health services in their communities,” according to a press release.

Family members or you may text, call or chat with the Children’s Crisis and Referral Line 24/7 at 844HELP4WV or 844-435-7498.

“You can call, chat or text the line immediately for West Virginia children struggling with addiction or mental health issues … it’s for behavioral issues regarding everything from parenting right on down,” Justice said. “There are a lot of kids who fall through the cracks … and you can’t fathom the issues today they have to deal with.”

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