Justice: People 80 and over may receive first round of COVID-19 vaccine as early as this week

CHARLESTON – Despite his initial prediction that COVID-19 vaccines wouldn’t be available to the general public until mid-March, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on Wednesday announced that vaccinations for anyone age 80 or above would begin this week.

In a change to the state’s prior tentative timeline that showed members of the general populace not receiving the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine until March, Justice said during his Wednesday press conference that the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were already en route to primary care physicians’ offices, health clinics and some local health departments “as we speak.”

“This really boils down to age, age, age primarily,” the governor said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’re 65 years of age or older, you are the target of this terrible killer. We’re pivoting again, and as your governor, I am announcing that today we will begin vaccinations for the general population that is in excess of 80 years of age.”

“Vaccinations will begin as soon as today,” he added.

Justice went on to say that the state government, local health departments and the West Virginia Army National Guard are organizing several large-scale COVID-19 vaccination events at armories and other select sites around the state.

“Those locations will be announced as soon they are finalized, and the doses will be given out to people ages 80 or older on a first-come, first-served basis,” Justice said. “I surely believe with all my soul that the faster we can get shots in arms of people 80 and older, the more lives we’re going to save. This is boiling down to minutes, not days.”

While specific dates, times and locations are still being ironed out, it’s likely the information will be published here.

The governor said once everyone in the general population ages 80 and older who wishes to receive the vaccine has done so, the state will “double back and offer it to people ages 70 year and older, and then 60 years and older, and so on.”

One unknown factor from a logistical standpoint is the availability of doses, which is why large-scale vaccination events will be first-come, first-served, Justice said.

“We’re only going to be able to give doses on a first-come, first-served basis at those locations because we cannot do more than what we have … and once we run out, then, we can cry to the mountaintops to get more,” he said.

The announcement came the day the state finished administering the first round of COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff in all 214 long-term care facilities in the Mountain State, Justice said.

“We were the first in the country to finish all 214 long-term care facilities by this morning in the state,” he said, “so [with people 80 years and older in the general population], we’re going to get after it, and by that, I mean we’re really going to get after it.

Justice also announced that the state is prioritizing administering the first doses of the vaccine to all teachers, administrators, staff and service personnel in public schools ages 50 and older “immediately.”

“We all know our schools are the pillars of our communities, and we absolutely know we’ve got to do more and more and more to make them safe, so therefore, today we are committing to offer vaccines to all teachers, to all staff, to all service personnel immediately to anybody that is 50 or older,” he said.

He allotted a two-to-three week time frame, adding the state would then “double back” and offer the vaccine to all teachers, administrators, staff, service personnel or “anybody who has to be in the schools” under the age of 50.

Information about vaccine administration will be sent out directly from the West Virginia Department of Education to superintendents in each county.

The governor also outlined details about a new Jan. 19, 2021 resumption date for in-person learning, which you can read more about here.

“We have got to get our kids back in school, that’s just all there is to it,” the governor insisted, saying virtual learning had failed.

“The virtual learning models do not work for most students without consistent live engagement with a teacher from a student’s own school,” Justice said. “During 2020, we learned that COVID transmission rates were .02 percent among students and .3 percent among our staff, so we cannot do stuff like ‘everybody bring a dish and let’s have lunch together.’ We cannot be doing stuff where we’re gathering together. The transmission rates were just phenomenally higher among staff than kids.”

Justice urged all public school employees on the fence to take the plunge and receive the vaccine.

“For crying out loud, take the vaccine,” he said. “People are saying, ‘you’re going to grow a third arm, or you’re going to grow antlers – give me a break. Every day, you see me reading name after name after name of people gasping for breath who died without their loved ones even being able to be there. You’ve got to take this vaccine.”

Wednesday’s announcements came as the daily positivity rate climbed to 11.68 percent, 24,433 cases qualified as active and the governor announced a record high 797 number of COVID-related hospitalizations.

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