CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County octogenarians and anyone older hoping to receive a coronavirus vaccine should contact their doctor’s office or the county’s health department.

A vaccine priority waiting list of county older residents is being established for prospective future recipients, said Dr. Terrence Reidy, the top health officer for Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

The early distribution step comes on the heels of Jim Justice’s decision last week that some vaccines being gradually distributed across the state would be given to people 80-years-old or older.

“Vaccinating this group is most important to decreasing the death rate,” Reidy said.

Jefferson County received 100 of the Moderna vaccines that will be administered this week, Reidy said. Those first up for the vaccinations will need a second booster shot within 30 days, he pointed out.

Some virologists are debating whether the second doses should be held back in order to inoculate more people more quickly with a single dose, Reidy said.

More vaccines will be distributed to the approximately 1,500 county residents who are 80 or older when more doses earmarked for them become available, Reidy said. “We do expect as each week goes on the supply is going to increase, but we don’t know that for sure,” he said. “Whatever new vaccine arrives we’ll get it out.”

Meanwhile, Reidy added, inoculations for various essential medical professionals and public safety workers continue.

As of Monday, West Virginia had administered about half of the 103,375 vaccine doses it had received from manufacturers.

Reidy cautioned that distributing the coronavirus vaccines to West Virginia’s 1.8 million residents will be a process that will unfold for many months. That will include preparing to administer booster shots.

“This a long process,” Reidy said. “It’s going to be going on over many months until there’s enough vaccine produced and distributed trickling down to the county level ’til we get everyone that wants a vaccine vaccinated.”

That process could take about a year, but that time frame is an educated guess like many aspects of dealing with the novel virus, he said. A new wrinkle appeared when a new strain of the virus was discovered that looks to be much more infectious than the strains that initially surfaced.

Meanwhile, Reidy said it’s also not clear how long the newly and quickly developed vaccines that are available will protect against the novel coronavirus. The clinical approval trials for the vaccines first inoculated people less than six months ago, he pointed out.

“The hope is that it’s going to last many, many months,” he said. “But until we see how long people who have had the vaccine are protected from getting infected, we won’t know.”

Similarly, Reidy said the medical community doesn’t yet know how long people who are infected with the virus and then recover are naturally immune.

“Despite all the ink about this and all the talk, it’s still a relatively new disease,” he pointed out.

Like the influenza virus that develops into different strains every year through other species, the coronavirus can use other animals as carriers that keep regenerating outbreaks, Reidy said.

“There’s been lots of interest for decades on the coronaviruses in bats because they have lots of them,” he said.

Whether coronavirus vaccines become as common and routine as annual flu shots remains to be seen, Reidy said. But such a new routine isn’t unlikely.

Some medical experts predict it could be next fall until most people might not need to wear face coverings in public places, Reidy said. And protecting the oldest people may lower the death rate from coronavirus infections but stopping the broader transmission of the virus among others would still be necessary, he said.

“People in their 60s and 70s and people younger can also die from it,” he said. “So you still want to stop the transmission.”

West Virginia posted new records of more than 27,000 of known COVID cases last week, and Reidy anticipates another surge resulting from recent holiday gatherings.

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