West Virginia health leaders continue urging COVID-19 vaccines one year into availability

West Virginia

FILE – In this Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 file photo, a nurse loads a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Today, Tuesday, Dec. 14 marks one year since COVID-19 vaccines became available in the Mountain State.

Since then, 63.8% of eligible West Virginians, ages 5 and older, have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 53.4% are fully vaccinated and 30.5% have received a booster shot. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources says a total of 2,265,389 doses of the vaccine have been administered to West Virginia residents.

According to the DHHR, Kanawha County has administered the most doses with 123,370 vaccine doses. Throughout the state, 41,152 doses of either a first dose, second dose or booster have been administered within the past seven days.

To mark the anniversary of the vaccine’s availability, health experts across the state have shared an open letter urging more West Virginians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to get their booster shots for added protection against variants such as Delta and Omicron.

“With the strongest safety monitoring of any vaccine in U.S. history and a year of evidence and experience, we remain confident in the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination,” President of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Lisa M. Costello, MD, MPH, said. 

Health officials penned the letter due to what they called a “troubling challenge” – the state’s overall low vaccination rate combined with COVID-19 variants are causing an increased number of hospitalizations and deaths as well as overwhelming health systems.

“Vaccination is our strongest tool to protect ourselves, our communities, and our health systems,” Costello said. “With this letter, we hope to remind West Virginians that the pandemic continues to hold serious implications for all of our lives, and the best way to reduce the consequences of COVID-19 is through everyone choosing vaccination,” Costello continued.

More than 30 West Virginia healthcare and public health leaders and organizations signed the letter, which says “It is devastating to see people suffer from what is now a vaccine-preventable illness. Yet just as we were a year ago, we remain hopeful. We know now more than ever that the COVID-19 vaccine is our key to protect ourselves and end this pandemic—only if we all choose it. West Virginians, protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Please get vaccinated and boosted.”

Below is a full copy of the letter:

One year ago, we wrote to you when the first COVID-19 vaccine was on its way to our Mountain State. The authorization of a safe and effective vaccine was a milestone time in our careers, bringing hope and relief during this life-changing pandemic.
A year later, we have seen hundreds of thousands of West Virginians choose COVID-19 vaccination, alongside millions across the United States and billions around the world. For more than a year, COVID19 vaccines have had the most rigorous safety monitoring of any vaccines in U.S. history. The scientific and medical evidence continues to reinforce that vaccination is safe, and it is highly effective at reducing risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
We trust COVID-19 vaccines because we have followed the science, and we see firsthand each day the role vaccination plays in protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our patients. Without a doubt, countless lives have been saved through COVID-19 vaccination. This is why we have chosen to get the vaccine and why we recommend it to our patients.
We have made strides toward improving public health in the face of an ever-changing pandemic. We still have a pressing concern, though: West Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the lowest in the nation, increasing our hospitalization rates from COVID-19.
When vaccination rates in a community are low, the virus that causes COVID-19 can more easily spread and change into new strains—these are the “variants” you may be hearing about, such as Delta or Omicron. New variants could be more contagious, cause more severe illness, or could even develop in ways that allow it to overcome the vaccines that are working so strongly for us now. The spread of variants has contributed to recent increases in hospitalizations and deaths in West Virginia.
We know that the overwhelming majority of people who are now hospitalized or pass away from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Although no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing disease or complications from disease, the COVID-19 vaccines are our strongest tool to protect against severe illness and death.
If you have not yet chosen vaccination, please get vaccinated. West Virginians 5 years of age and older can now get protected against COVID-19. And if you were vaccinated more than 6 months ago with Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, or more than 2 months ago with a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, please get a booster shot. Boosters are an important step to maintain maximum protection against the virus and its variants.
Vaccines are readily available at multiple locations across all 55 counties. You can learn more and find a location near you at vaccinate.wv.gov.
One year ago, we wrote to you about how we wept with the families we cared for and served, watching them struggle with severe illness and death from COVID-19 complications. Many who survived continue to have symptoms weeks and months later—what you may have heard referred to as “long COVID.” The images and memories of these West Virginians – some of whom are our neighbors, colleagues, patients, or loved ones – remain and will stay with us for our lifetimes.
It is devastating to see people suffer from what is now a vaccine-preventable illness. Yet just as we were a year ago, we remain hopeful. We know now more than ever that the COVID-19 vaccine is our key to protect ourselves and end this pandemic—only if we all choose it. West Virginians, protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Please get vaccinated and boosted.

Letter from WV Health Leaders

The following health officials, listed alphabetically, have signed the letter: Sven T. Berg, MD, MPH – Chief Executive Officer, Quality Insights; Kenneth Canipe, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP – President, West Virginia Society of Health System Pharmacists; Lisa M. Costello, MD, MPH, FAAP – President, West Virginia Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics; D. Scott Davis PT, MS, EdD – President, West Virginia Physical Therapy Association; V.J. Davis, RS, MS – President, West Virginia Association of Local Health Departments; Laura Davisson, MD, MPH, FACP – Governor, American College of Physicians West Virginia Chapter; Shawn Eddy – President, West Virginia Health Care Association; Sherri P. Ferrell – CEO, WV Primary Care Association; Suzanne Gharib, MD – President, West Virginia Rheumatology Society; Melissa Jensen, MSPA, PA-C and Megan Ross, MPH, CHES – Co-Chairs, WV Immunization Network; Jim Kaufman – President and CEO, West Virginia Hospital Association;
Howard Lafferty, DO – President, West Virginia Academy of Family Physicians; Sharon L. Lansdale, RPh, MS -President/CEO, Center for Rural Health Development, Inc.; PS Martin, MD, FACEP, FAEMS – President, National Association of EMS Physicians West Virginia Chapter; Eleisha J. Nickoles, DDS – President, West Virginia Dental Association; L. Michael Peterson, DO, FACEP – President, West Virginia College of Emergency Physicians; Kara Piechowski, PharmD, BCPS, BC-ADM, CTTS – Director, Tobacco-Free Me WV; Michael Robie, DO – President, West Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association; Susan Russell, MSN, NE-BC, RN-BC – President, West Virginia Organization for Nursing Leadership; Gregory Schaefer, DO, FACS – President, WV Chapter of the American College of Surgeons; Angela D. Settle, DNP, APRN, BC, FNP – CEO, West Virginia Health Right, Inc.; Shafic A. Sraj, MD – President, West Virginia State Medical Association; Lauren W.M. Swager MD – Division Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and WVU Medicine, Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry; Matt Walker – Director, West Virginia Independent Pharmacy Association; West Virginia Affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives; West Virginia Association of School Nurses; West Virginia Orthopaedic Society; West Virginia Pharmacists Association; West Virginia Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; West Virginia Society of Anesthesiologists; and Joyce Wilson, MSN, APRN, FNP-C – President, West Virginia Nurses Association.

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