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Justice, health officials urge young people to get vaccinated for COVID-19

Photo Courtesy/WV Governor’s Office JUSTICE — Gov. Jim Justice urges young adults and eligible teenagers to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

CHARLESTON — COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are making a slow and steady comeback in West Virginia, largely due to increased spread among older teenagers and young adults and variants of the coronavirus.

“This is just the beginning of a shot across your bow if you happen to be a younger person,” Justice said Monday during his COVID-19 briefing. “You really need to know that you need to be vaccinated. If in fact this variant is attacking the younger folks as COVID-19 did to our older folks, then you’ve got to get vaccinated.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, 19.7 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with nearly one-third of all residents partially vaccinated with either the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Of those numbers, there are 658 West Virginians age 65 and older partially vaccinated per 1,000 people, with 241,236 people vaccinated in that age range. But only 28,876 West Virginians between the ages of 16 and 24 have received their first doses, or 56 per 1,000 people. Only 41,446 West Virginians between the ages of 25 and 34 are partially vaccinated, or 194 per 1,000.

As of Monday, teens and young adults between the ages of 10 and 19 made up the majority of new cases, followed by young adults between the ages of 20 and 29. According to the DHHR Monday report on its COVID-19 dashboard, there are 6,955 active COVID-19 cases in the state as of Sunday.

That’s an 11-percent increase in active cases since 6,263 active cases last Monday and a 34-percent increase since dropping to 5,176 active cases on March 15.

Hospitalizations due to serous COVID-19 infections also continue to trend up, from a low of 151 hospitalizations on March 13 to 259 hospitalization as of Friday. Use of intensive care unit beds doubled from 40 ICU beds on March 6 to 80 ICU beds as of Friday.

State health officials blame the growth in cases and hospitalizations after a significant drop in both numbers on increased asymptomatic spread among young adults between the ages of 16 and 29, a certain amount of pandemic fatigue and the increase in COVID-19 variants, such as the United Kingdom variant.

“Every week, this variant is doubling in all of our states,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar. “Every West Virginian, we hope, who has that opportunity to be vaccinated will choose to do so. The vaccines are very effective against these variants.”

So far, the increase in active COVID-19 cases hasn’t resulted in an increase of deaths, though deaths can be a lagging indicator. DHHR reported one additional death Monday — a 42-year-old woman from Fayette County, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death total to 2,696. Seven additional deaths were reported over the weekend.

Justice announced on March 22 that all eligible residents age 16 and older can now sign up to get vaccinated. West Virginia was a national leader in getting older populations vaccinated through Operation: Save Our Wisdom. While the state’s vaccination distribution remains high, West Virginia has begun to drop in various state rankings.

James Hoyer, leader of the state’s joint interagency task force for vaccines, said West Virginia is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to refine the data the CDC uses to show the state’s vaccination progress.

“We still execute 100 percent of the doses we receive centrally in the State of West Virginia in arms each week,” Hoyer said. “It becomes a little bit more challenging on gauging second doses at 100 percent due to the time lag within which you put those in arms, but we still get those done in the appropriate time.”

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

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