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W.Va. state officials seek support from faith leaders on vaccine

Contributed JUSTICE — Gov. Jim Justice encourages residents to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus during a pandemic briefing on Monday.

CHARLESTON — The faith-based community can take a leadership role in encouraging residents to become vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus, state officials said Monday.

“Many parishioners are watching the heads of the parishes, whether it’s the pastors or the reverends or the priests or the bishops and others, waiting to see if they feel safe taking the vaccine,” Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar, said.

“Certainly we would never want people to move against their faith and there’s different people with different perspectives, which we certainly will absolutely respect,” Marsh said Monday during the governor’s pandemic briefing. “But certainly these leaders of these congregations are so important to promote the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines that we have seen all of our country and our state, we’ve seen the numbers of older West Virginians who have been vaccinated dying at a much lower frequency.”

Church leaders can be role models in encouraging vaccination, Marsh said.

“We know the only way we protect West Virginians like the governor said is every single West Virginian chooses to be vaccinated,” Marsh said.

Gov. Jim Justice reported eight outbreaks in churches in six counties. He recommended keeping distances between the pews, wear a face mask and perhaps attend online church services.

“I’m sure the good Lord above understands,” Justice said.

While older residents are becoming infected at lesser rates, it has shifted to the younger population, Marsh said.

Youth are becoming infected by the variant strains of the virus, including the 10-19 and 20-29 age groups, Marsh said. Cases have been found in children in the birth to 9-year-old category, too, he said.

The state has recorded 168 cases of the California variant, 194 cases of the UK variant and one case of the South African variant, Marsh said. The variants are more infectious, more severe and more lethal, he said.

The UK variant is becoming the dominant strain in the United States, he said.

“These viruses can infect much more easily,” Marsh said.

The state is receiving plenty of vaccine supply from the federal government both in direct shipments to the state and through other providers including Veterans Affairs, pharmacies and federally qualified health clinics, James Hoyer, director of the Joint Interagency Task Force on Vaccines.

“We are working hard with the governor daily to again get the word out and educate folks as to the value of the vaccine, not just to them individually, but to us as a state,” he said.

(Mancini can be contacted at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com)

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