W.Va. lowering age limit for vaccines to 50

The state of West Virginia will begin targeting residents 50 and older for the COVID-19 coronavirus vaccinations, Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday.

Also, teachers and service personnel from 40 to 50 years old and children and residents with health issues also will be included in the new emphasis of vaccinations, Justice said. Previously, the age was 50 and older in the schools.

More than a month ago, the governor lowered the priority age to residents 65 and older for the vaccines, far ahead of any anticipated schedules. Residents 65 and older will remain a priority, in case they’ve been missed in the Save Our Wisdom vaccination initiative, according to Justice.

“We will still prioritize those who are 65 and above,” Justice said.

Residents can register for the vaccine at vaccinate.wv.gov. The state — including the governor, the Department of Health and Human Resources and local health departments — has been encouraging residents ages 16 and older to register for a vaccination.

Residents having trouble navigating the website can call the West Virginia COVID-19 vaccine information hotline at 1-833-734-0965 for help from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Lowering of the ages is possible because of the additional vaccine now available. In addition to the Pfizer and Moderna two-shot vaccines approved in December, the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine was approved on Saturday, raising the number of dosages available for West Virginia to more than 92,000 a week.

About 15,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which do not require the same super-cold storage as the Pfizer and Moderna versions, were either on their way or in the state, Justice said. The logistics in storing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may make it easier to reach residents who are unable to go to a clinic, state officials said.

“This is really a move forward,” state coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Clay Marsh said. “As we continue to get more vaccines of course we want to immunize every West Virginian who is eligible.”

Vaccinations work, as evidenced by the declining death and hospitalization rates and reports from long-term care facilities, Marsh said.

Residents 50 and older and the high-risk population with chronic medical conditions who are 16 and older are in the Phase 2A of the state’s vaccination program. Medical conditions include Down syndrome, intellectual and developmental disabilities, caretakers of those with congenital or acquired diseases, organ or bone marrow transplants, obesity, Sickle Cell Anemia and cystic fibrosis and women who are pregnant.

Expanding the emphasis is possible because of more vaccines becoming available, Marsh said. However, the emergency use authorizations by the FDA, the Johnson and Johnson and Moderna vaccines are for people 18 and older and 16 and older for the Pfizer vaccine, Marsh said.

Among the challenges in the distribution of the vaccine for the past several weeks has been the weather, James Hoyer, who heads the interagency task force on vaccinations.

“We’re balancing out as we talked about across our 55 counties,” he said. “We’re close to having that balance in place.”

Additional lessening of the restrictions on businesses may be forthcoming this week, Justice said. The governor reduced restrictions two weeks ago.

“I hope to be able to do another announcement this coming Friday to where we are going to be able to lower those restrictions even more,” Justice said. “We want to be smart, don’t we West Virginia? We want to be safe and we want to maintain as much health as we can, but we have to keep on living.”


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