CHARLES TOWN – State officials, including Gov. Jim Justice, now recognize that Jefferson County and other counties haven’t received as many coronavirus vaccination doses as they should have—and that they’re working to correct the disparity.
That’s the message Jim Hoyer, director of West Virginia’s coronavirus vaccine distribution, and Jefferson County state lawmakers offered this week to revelations that disproportionately fewer vaccines have been shipped to several counties, including Jefferson and the Eastern Panhandle.
“We continue to work and look at our data and balance [vaccination] loads,” Hoyer said on Monday, during one of the governor’s near-daily press conferences on the state’s pandemic response. “Some counties are concerned that they may not have as high a rate of dosage than others—we are working on that diligently.”
Hoyer said 25 other counties that were given less vaccine than some higher-population counties will begin to also receive more doses. “The governor has given us the guidance and the direction and the challenge that we are all going to cross the finish line at the same time,” he said. “So this week we will be balancing the loads [of vaccine] out to make make sure that we’re equalizing our distributions across the state.”
West Virginia first started distributing vaccines across the state on Dec. 30. Another vaccination clinic is scheduled for Thursday at the Ranson Civic Center.
As of Monday, Jefferson had received and given out 5,331 total vaccinations. That represents 9.3 percent of the county’s overall population, and the lowest distribution to any county in the state.
Berkeley and Morgan counties still had the second- and third-lowest inoculation rates based on their overall populations, showing 11.2 percent and 13.2 percent rates respectively.
This week, Hoyer relayed in a phone call to Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson, District 66) that state officials were committed to leveling uneven coronavirus distributions throughout the state over the next 30 days, according to Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson, District 66).
The Jefferson County Health Department received 450 vaccine doses this week to distribute to its local residents.
Espinosa said Hoyer reported that Jefferson and 27 counties with low vaccine shipments will receive 1,780 doses starting next week.
That amount of vaccine will continue to be delivered to those counties until the disparities are mitigated, Espinosa said.
The latest vaccination clinic in Jefferson County is scheduled for Thursday at the Ranson Civic Center.
Espinosa said Hoyer acknowledged during a phone call that the immunizations were first directed to medical and nursing home workers, public safety workers and other critical workers when the statewide vaccination rollout started in December.
Hoyer said state officials have been focused on implementing a multi-step priority plan to first vaccinate various essential workers along with the oldest residents, who are the most vulnerable to a coronavirus infection.
People age 80 and older were among those placed ahead of the vaccination line from the outset, but that priority guidepost changed later to those 65 and older.
The largest counties, particularly Kanawha and Monongalia, that have the most hospitals, nursing homes and older populations received the most vaccines.
Jefferson County has one hospital and three nursing homes with various workers supporting 269 patient beds, according to state records. In contrast, Kanawha County, which received the most vaccines of any county, has seven medical centers and 11 nursing homes operating with 2,534 patient beds.
State officials said Jefferson County has one of the youngest, if not the youngest, overall population in West Virginia.
State Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson, District 16) said Bill Crouch, state secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, gave a similar explanation to Hoyer’s during a phone conversation this week.
County-level data released by state health department officials last week showed that Jefferson County received the fewest amount of vaccine doses per population than any other county in West Virginia. The data was pulled together in response to growing concerns in several counties from residents having trouble obtaining vaccinations.
Jefferson’s five state delegation members began contacting Dr. Terrence Reidy, the county’s top health officer, about the lower vaccine distributions to the Eastern Panhandle after they were confirmed last week.
Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson, District 67) pointed the problem out to Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff. After checking into the matter, Abraham later told him that state officials didn’t realize the disparity of vaccination distributions until state officials began pulling together county-level data.
That’s when state officials realized that some counties were neglected while various hospitals and nursing homes were being served as a priority in the order of immunization rollouts, Doyle said.
“I’m flummoxed that they’ve waited this long to check the distributions county by county,” he said. “I think they should have done that some time ago.”
Abraham confirmed what other state officials have stated—that they would direct more vaccine to the Eastern Panhandle in the coming weeks, Doyle said.
During Monday’s press conference, Hoyer said West Virginia had developed the logistical capacity to “easily” administer up to 135,000 vaccine doses statewide in a week.
Inoculating all West Virginians who want to be immunized will depend on the supplies of vaccines from the federal government.
But he added that if the steadily growing supply of vaccines continues, the state might achieve that goal by the end of July, before the original target end date before November.
Last week Justice urged West Virginians to register for a vaccination on the Everbridge online registration system set up for state residents. State health officials said too few Jefferson County residents 65 and older had put their names on a waiting priority list to receive a vaccine.
So far, more than 279,000 state residents have signed up to receive a vaccination.
“Names are being pulled from the waitlist and we’ve got to pre-register. And we’re working really, really hard to get all of our West Virginians 65 and above vaccinated.”