West Virginia’s Fast Start to Covid-19 Vaccinations

Monday, Governor Jim Justice announced, with appropriate pride, that by the end of the day the first round of Covid-19 vaccinations at the state’s nursing homes would be completed.

That means shots-in-arms of residents and staff at approximately 200 long-term care facilities, all done in two weeks and over the Christmas holiday.

That is truly remarkable, and the announcement came as nearly every other state was just carrying out the first vaccinations at nursing homes.

West Virginia got ahead of the country by going its own way. Rather than following the federal plan of utilizing two national pharmacy chains, West Virginia opened the distribution to all pharmacies, including independents.

The state Board of Pharmacy got buy-in from dozens of drug stores and pharmacists, many of whom already had relationships with nearby nursing homes, which sped up the vaccination process considerably.

“Our pharmacists have really stepped up,” said Krista Capehart, Director of Professional and Regulatory Affairs for the state Board of Pharmacy.  “They did everything we could have possibly asked of them and went out and got it done in record time.” A second dose will follow in a couple of weeks.

Marty Wright, Chief Executive Officer of the West Virginia Health Care Association, said the speed of the delivery marks a start to turning the tide against the virus and saving lives.

“Days do matter here,” Wright said on Talkline this week.

Each day is critical because the virus is surging again in West Virginia.  The state has the second highest infection spread rate in the country. As of yesterday, 40 of the state’s 55 counties were in the red on the DHHR’s Covid-19 map.

There is a lot of credit to go around for the early successes of the vaccinations: Governor Justice and his Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, the pharmacists, the National Guard, which is delivering the vaccines, the staff at the long-term care facilities, health departments and providers.

(That short list certainly leaves out some organizations, and my apologies to them.)

The success of the rollout so far demonstrates what can be accomplished when public and private entities work together toward a common goal.  They tackled the logistical nightmare and problem-solved.  As National Guard Adjutant General James Hoyer likes to say, “We’re building the plane while we fly it.”

Of course, the work is far from over.

The vaccinations of nursing home residents and front-line health care workers are just the beginning. State Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said on Talkline Tuesday the task force is now building out the delivery plans for the bulk of the state’s population and he hopes those details will be finalized within two weeks.

But we should pause just for a moment to thank all those responsible for getting the vaccination program up and running so quickly.  Their efforts reflect the “get-it-done” attitude of West Virginians in times of need.


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