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Officials detail vaccine rollout plan

CHARLESTON — As the possibility of as many as three COVID-19 vaccines being given the green light by federal regulators becomes closer to reality, state officials released additional information on how those vaccines would be distributed.

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday the state could receive the first delivery of vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech between Dec. 10 and Dec. 12, while the first delivery of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered shortly after that.

“We’ve got this down pat, and we’ll be getting this out,” Justice said. “We just hope and pray that more and more will be flowing right into West Virginia and flowing our way to be able to vaccinate our people.”

Heading up the distribution effort is the West Virginia National Guard and the Department of Health and Human Resources. Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said an advisory council within DHHR has developed plans for distribution. A draft version was released last week for approval by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the first half of phase one, the first vaccines will go to health care personnel, such as hospital employees, EMS personnel, long-term care staff, home care providers, local health departments, and other healthcare personnel. In the second half of phase 1, vaccines will go to other first responders, National Guard members working on COVID-19 response, childcare providers, teachers and staff, state officials, correctional staff, postal workers, and other critical workforce employees.

Hoyer said a key focus will be on residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. According to Hoyer, more than 40 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths can be linked to nursing homes. That priority will help with a secondary priority of taking pressure off of hospitals, which are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“The governor has given us two initial priorities … to focus on mitigating fatalities, which means an initial focus in nursing home facilities,” Hoyer said. “Also, to maintain the integrity of our healthcare system, particularly our acute care system, because … we are an exceptionally vulnerable population without the coronavirus.”

Both Pfizer and Moderna have sought emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their vaccines. Both vaccines, developed through the innovative mRNA process, are more than 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infections.

Another vaccine developed through more traditional means by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is between 62 percent and 90 percent effective. AstraZeneca is in the process of requesting emergency authorization.

According to NPR, the federal government has set aside more than 6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines through the Operation: Warp Speed program created by the federal government. The vaccines have been apportioned based on the populations of states. Once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines receive authorization, doses will be sent out.

Both vaccines have to be kept at temperatures below freezing with the Pfizer vaccine requiring temperatures below minus 94 degrees F. Both mRNA vaccines also require two doses spread out over two to three weeks, while the AstraZeneca vaccine requires one dose and can be stored at normal temperatures.

“The Pfizer vaccine is a complicated vaccine to distribute,” Hoyer said. “It has environmental issues related to temperature. The doses have to be broken down once they come to the State of West Virginia. A lot of work will be done in that area to meet the objective.”

Justice said he is confident that any vaccine approved by the FDA will be safe and that he plans to be one of the first people vaccinated. Justice wants the public to be comfortable with taking the vaccine once it is available for the general public.

“I’ll promise you the very second that I can get the vaccine I’ll be taking it as well as my family,” Justice said. “The people at the Food and Drug Administration and all the different people who are overseeing and looking at this … I promise you they have absolutely gone through this to the very best of their abilities.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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