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West Virginia officials prep for possible vaccine distribution

UPDATE — Gov. Jim Justice talks about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery plans once a vaccine is approved and available. (Photo Courtesy/W.Va. Governor’s Office)

CHARLESTON — With West Virginia’s COVID-19 cases at record highs, Gov. Jim Justice said the announcement that a vaccine could be available for limited distribution in December was much needed news.

Speaking during his Friday coronavirus briefing, Justice said the state is prepared to distribute vaccines when they become available. Until then, Justice encouraged West Virginians to keep doing the things required to limit the spread of the virus.

“As soon as this vaccine is available, we will be absolutely distributing it in West Virginia,” Justice said. “Until that vaccine is in our hands, what is our best defense? Our best defense is, without questions, to wear your mask, keep social distance, absolutely do not go in crowded places if you can stop it.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Pfizer and BioNTech announced they plan to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine. It’s unclear how long the FDA might take to approve the authorization, but it could be as soon as mid-December.

According to the results of their 44,000-person test trial, the vaccine was 95 percent effective at protecting against the coronavirus. A similar vaccine being developed by Moderna could also be ready for emergency authorization in the next few weeks.

The Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia National Guard have been working on vaccine distribution plans.

A draft version of the plans have been released and submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for approval.

The plan has three phases depending on the availability of doses, initially focuses on frontline health and medical workers, other essential workers and people in the high-risk category for catching COVID-19.

“Our vaccine advisory council has been working on this since August,” Justice said. “The National Guard has been heading this up and doing incredible work.”

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the National Guard, said Wednesday state officials met with CDC representatives this week to look over the vaccine plan. More than 20 organizations along with state agencies in the state are involved in the planning process, including identifying freezers to store the vaccines.

According to data from the Coronavirus Dashboard maintained by DHHR, active COVID-19 cases increased by 17 percent from the Monday briefing and 33 percent since last Friday.

Active cases as of Friday increased to 12,177, up from 9,141 active cases last week. Over the last seven days, 74 people have died from COVID-19.

Six counties are now in the red for growth in either their infection rate or the percent of positive cases, including Wood, Jackson, Marshall, Mineral, Hardy, and Berkeley counties. Another 14 counties are listed as orange. Only 10 out of 55 counties are considered in the green for their low infection rates or low rates of positivity.

Testing is up, with 17,048 test results received Wednesday – a record high. Justice said in seven days, the state tested more than 91,000 West Virginians. Test results received Thursday was 16,613, but case numbers came in at 790 Thursday as well. Wednesday identified 990 cases, also breaking a record. According to DHHR, 1,081 new cases were received in a 24-hour period compared to Thursday’s data.

Much of the increase in test numbers is due to employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities being tested twice a week per an executive order issued last Friday by Justice. This includes between 12,000 and 13,000 nursing home employees and more than 5,000 assisted living employees.

“Today, I can report to you that since that order went into effect, we have found asymptomatic positive cases in 11 nursing homes and long-term care facilities,” Justice said. “This thing can run through a nursing home and kill like nobody’s business. We know that.”

In some good news, the state’s hospitalization numbers trended downward, from a peak of 429 Tuesday to 402 as of Thursday. Daily confirmed cases in intensive care units dropped from 126 Tuesday to 120 Thursday. Ventilator use was also down slightly, from 52 Tuesday to 51 Thursday.

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

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