West Virginia’s COVID-19 czar, governor report no adverse effects from first dose of Pfizer vaccine

CHARLESTON – Governor Jim Justice on Wednesday said he’s feeling fine after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Justice, the state’s coronavirus ‘czar’ Dr. Clay Marsh, and the rest of the governor’s team tackling the pandemic volunteered to receive the first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday evening to bolster residents’ confidence in the vaccine.

During his Wednesday COVID briefing, the governor said he was not experiencing any arm pain near the injection site.

“My arm is not hurting me at all,” Justice said. “I have felt great, and Cathy (Justice) has felt great. If this vaccine becomes available for you, please, please, please get vaccinated.”

Justice said he took the vaccine for many reasons.

Governor Jim Justice receives the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during an evening press briefing Monday, Dec. 14.

“I did it for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason is so I could sit with you and let you see me take it,” he said. “[Keep in mind] that I was willing to take it, and I have the best advisers on the planet and I surely have a good brain to be able to tell me to take it or not take it. It was painless. There was nothing to it.”

“Look at all the tens of thousands of people who took it in the [clinical] trials,” Justice continued. “Really and truly, do you want to risk all the knowledge, all the science, all the everything about this and say, ‘no I do not want to take it,’ versus the possibility of you getting it and me sitting here reading your number?”

“Reading your number” is a reference to a tradition Justice has at the outset of every COVID-19 press briefing to read the name and age of every West Virginia who has succumbed to the virus out of respect to them and their loved ones and friends.

Govenor urges symptomatic people to ‘go get tested’ immediately

The governor also stressed to residents the importance of not wasting time prior to seeking medical care if they have any flu-like or other unusual symptoms.

“If you get feeling the least bit bad in any way – I don’t care if it is a toenail ache – go to the emergency room or go somewhere and get a COVID-19 test,” Justice said. “If we can catch this before the sixth day, or really, in the first few days, the antibodies will probably make you well. If we do not catch this in the first six days and you are above 65 years of age, you are in real trouble.”

Justice reminded folks not to sit at home, or wherever and conclude, “this is just a cold, I have just got the flu, or I have just got a headache.’”

“Go get tested the very split second you have any kind of symptom of anything,” he said. “If you test positive, the antibodies will save your life. If you do not go and you go past six or seven days, the antibodies are almost worthless. You have got to go when you first have symptoms.”

Governor reports 2,000 residents, staff in long-term care facilities have been vaccinated

Justice said they are pushing the vaccines out the door as quickly as possible.

“We are distributing them across the state,” he said. “The National Guard and all of our people are doing a phenomenal job and we are going to push them and push them and push them.”

He shared that the federal government is teaming up with CVS and Walgreens to begin vaccinating nursing home residents across the country beginning with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Monday, Dec. 21. However, West Virginia is ahead of the game on that front, Justice said.

“I know our nursing home community is moving ahead quicker than this,” Justice said. “We have already vaccinated 2,000 people in our long-term facilities and their staff. We are moving and decided to use a different approach because [in] West Virginia, over 40 percent of our pharmacies not chain-affiliated. We have partnered with all the pharmacies in West Virginia. Our intent is within the next 30 days to have vaccinated all of the nursing home and assisted living staff and their residents.”

Justice said West Virginia was the first in the nation to test all staff and residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“We want to stay on top of that curve, and we want to be the first again,” he said. “We are hoping to be completed vaccinating those in our long-term facilities before most other states even get started.”

An update on the vaccination distribution timeline

Next, Justice discussed when residents and their loved ones would be able to receive their vaccines.

“I know many of you want to know when you and your loved ones can get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Justice said. “Our planning and decision-making are based on four key principals – reduce the rate of hospitalizations, reduce the rate of deaths, protect the most vulnerable and assure that our state can maintain critical services.”

Justice said Phase 1 is made up of the most vulnerable of the population along with first responders and public health officials. (There are four subphases in the first phase, and you can read more about the two major phases here.)

“Phase 2 will begin, I hope and pray, in the early days of March,” Justice said. “We will be reaching out to all of our population starting with anyone over the age of 60. Then, we will drift down to anyone over the age of 50 who has some level of pre-existing conditions who get a note from a physician. Ninety-seven percent of the deaths are in those in excess of 50 years of age.”

He also stated that folks receiving the vaccine would need to take two doses and he said there is no way to get the virus from taking the vaccine. He also said the vaccines could not be mingled.

“If you get a Pfizer you take a second Pfizer and if you take Moderna you have to take a second Moderna,” Justice said. “Until you and all the people we live with are vaccinated, the best defense we have goes back to this mask. Continue to wear your mask, please.”

Justice reminded folks if they are going to in-person church services to keep a pew between those attending, wear a mask.

“Please, if you are 65 years old or older, I am pleading with you to stay home,” Justice said. “Get your services online. The good Lord is reaching out to bless us in every way – he is sending us a vaccine – and really in two months or so, it will be a lot better. Unfortunately, churches are an area where we can have a real problem.”

Marsh: ‘You cannot possibly get the virus’ from the vaccine

Marsh said he and the rest of the state’s COVID-19 task force were immunized with the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

“Just like the Governor and the First Lady, I have had no side effects from the vaccine,” Marsh said. “My arm was a little bit sore the first day. For us, we have had no real effects that were negative and having this vaccine is so important.”

Marsh said if you do experience a little bit of pain, it is just your body telling you your immune system is being activated to produce a response that is very specific, which will ultimately block the virus from infecting you if you are exposed.

“The vaccine is just a little synthetic genetic code for a part of the virus, and therefore, you cannot possibly get the virus,” Marsh said. “The only real reason not to get the vaccine is if you are actively infected with the virus or if you have [another type of] active infection with fever or if you have had a really bad allergic reaction to one of the components of the virus or a life-threatening reaction. We all think it is safe and we have taken it ourselves.”

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