W.Va. to launch initiatives in wake of virus case increases

Contributed ON THE RISE — James Hoyer, who heads the coronavirus vaccine task force in West Virginia, makes a point on Thursday during the pandemic briefing by Gov. Jim Justice. The governor said a voluntary study will be done on antibodies of older vaccinated residents along with assessments of preparedness.

CHARLESTON — Prompted by a spike upward in the number of Delta variant infections in West Virginia, a voluntary study will immediately start on antibody levels in older residents who received a COVID-19 vaccination six months ago, the governor announced Thursday.

Gov. Jim Justice also said the state will intensify evaluations on the preparedness of hospitals and long-term care facilities, antibody supplies and personal protection equipment after the number of the more-contagious Delta variant doubled, from 43 to 100 in 24 hours from Wednesday and Thursday. It isn’t cause for panic, but it is of concern, he said.

“We need to move on this now,” Justice said.

The voluntary antibody study, called the Booster Battlefield Assessment, will determine whether a booster shot will be needed, Dr. Clay Marsh, coronavirus leader in West Virginia, said. The data will be of benefit to the state and the nation, he said.

The Delta variant is spreading throughout the world and becoming the single most common form, Marsh said. The strain is a thousand times more concentrated in the human airways and is more contagious, he said.

“One person walking through a shopping mall infected 20 other people,” Marsh said.

The concentration of the Delta contagion is so high a mask may not provide sufficient protection, Justice said.

Of the 100 Delta cases in West Virginia, at least three were in church outbreaks, Marsh said. Sixty-six percent were not vaccinated, but the other 34 percent were fully vaccinated and 17 percent of those ended up in the hospital, Marsh said.

Data from Pfizer, one of the three companies with vaccine emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration, shows antibody levels in the first two months after vaccination decrease and significantly decrease after six months, Marsh said.

Research in Israel has found people over 60 more than six months after their vaccination with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, had about 16 percent protection against the variant, Marsh said. Pfizer already is working with Israel, he said.

In West Virginia, of the hospitalizations, ICU admissions and people on ventilators which have gone up, 12 percent of deaths in West Virginia are fully vaccinated and 9.5 percent of people in the hospital are fully vaccinated.

“So we are worried as the governor has said that particularly for people who are older, who are more vulnerable including our nursing home populations and our long-term care facilities, but also for people who are over 60 years old who have been vaccinated back at the beginning of the pandemic when we first saw the vaccines, that may be seeing their immune protection start to go down,” Marsh said.

The study will be voluntary, Justice said. The state has been in contact with Pfizer, he said.

Proactively acting, Justice said he is directing the coronavirus taskforce to evaluate personal protection equipment levels, a major issue in the beginning of the pandemic, hospital and nursing staffing and bed availability, preventive and antibody supplies. Pandemic briefings will be held Monday, Wednesday and Friday rather than twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday, he said.

“We are moving proactively from the standpoint of a foundational emergency planning program,” Justice said.

The task force has regularly evaluated the issues, said James Hoyer, who heads the Joint Inter Agency Task Force on Vaccines. The greater emphasis is because the governor needs the information, he said.

“Because the governor sees a storm on the horizon, he’s directing us to increase the frequency with which we do those assessments to give us a better picture of what is going on,” Hoyer said.

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


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