Justice: 8,300 adults ages 80 and over vaccinated statewide; National Guard addresses antibody mix-up

CHARLESTON – Statewide, more than 8,000 adults ages 80 and older have been vaccinated with the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Jim Justice reported Monday.

“We have vaccinated 8,300 people of 80 years and older so far,” the governor said during his tri-weekly COVID-19 press briefing Monday. “Now, anybody can say anything they want, but I’ll guaran-flat-tee you, we saved lives. We saved a potful of lives right there.”

Justice announced state officials would “come out with a schedule tomorrow [Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021]” with more details about where and when K-12 teachers, service personnel and administrators – and additional residents ages 80 and older – could receive the first round of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’ve got 37,000 shots we’ve got to get in arms and get in arms now,” the governor said.

Justice announced a central hub for vaccination information, which may be found online at vaccinate.wv.gov and a new COVID-10 vaccine information line – 1-833-734-0965 – that will be open to questions about the vaccine and its administration from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The governor reiterated his reassurance that people can’t catch COVID-19 from the vaccine.

“You cannot get Covid from the vaccine, you’re not going to grow antlers, you’re not going to grow a third hand. For crying out loud, quit listening to all these people that are running around with all these scare tactics,” an exasperated Justice said. “All they’re looking for is allies. They’re looking for a platform and they’re looking for a bunch of people to agree with them and root them on, but according to [experts in the] science and medical field, to the best of their knowledge, this vaccine is extremely safe. We can’t say there’s no risk to anything, ever, but this is safe.”

Justice hinted that he was going to push for the vaccine to be made available to K-12 employees, especially those ages 50 and older, ahead of the announced Jan. 19, 2021 return to school for elementary and middle-school-aged students he announced last week.

“I’m going to push that we get set up faster because we need to get through and get all of our teaching community and service personnel vaccinated and vaccinated now, and I hope 100 percent of them come because it is just that important,” the governor remarked.

Justice said it was “horrendously important” that children return to school in person.

“It’s horrendously important that we get our kids back in school,” Justice said. “One-third of them are failing at least one core class, and they’re being subjected to all kinds of abuse. Our [child abuse prevention and reporting] hotlines have gotten terribly quiet because we don’t have eyes on these kids. It’s just plain terrible.”

School employees, including teachers and service personnel, are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect, and Justice’s implication was that without teacher or staff contact with children, there’s no one to report cases or child neglect or abuse happening at home.

Justice said while remote learning was “better than nothing” – especially if children have parents available to help them with their studies – it’s no match for traditional in-person classroom instruction.

“But, when it really boils down to it, the [remote learning] does not replace the in-person situation you have with a teacher and how you interact with that teacher in a classroom,” he said.

During Monday’s press conference, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, head of the West Virginia Army National Guard, addressed “a break in the process” of vaccine distribution last week in Boone County where doses of the antibody Regeron, used to treat patients who have already contracted COVID-19, were mistakenly administered to 44 people.

“I want to assure people that we have put processes … and additional changes in place and that we have done additional training to improve our ability to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible without challenges,” Hoyer said.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s COVID-19 ‘czar’ said the antibodies, which were the same as the ones given to President Donald Trump when he was hospitalized, “won’t cause harm to these people.”

“Forty of the 44 people [who mistakenly received the antibody] have been revaccinated and four people have been actively contacted to get the vaccine on a priority basis,” Marsh said. “This process is constantly being improved and assessed and as we find anything that we can do better, whether it’s looking at the way we’re immunizing people … or looking at specific way we’re moving vaccines to different parts of West Virginia, we will continue to make sure that is safe and has the highest quality and the fastest speed.”

“We realize that every vaccination may be a life saved,” he added.

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