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Justice acknowledges long vaccine waits for seniors; urges more federal supply

Gov. Jim Justice acknowledged frustration by West Virginia senior citizens who are eligible for covid-19 vaccination but unable to easily gain access, and the governor expressed his own frustration over federal vaccine allotments.

“If they send us vaccines, we’ll put ‘em in somebody’s arm,” Justice said during a regular briefing today about West Virginia’s coronavirus response effort.

West Virginia has opened vaccination eligibility to residents ages 65 and older. But in practice, many of those residents are experiencing busy signals at local health departments or wind up on lengthy waiting lists.

Justice and other state officials said West Virginia is establishing a centralized system to more efficiently register people for vaccine appointments online. Without many details, they said the system should be in place by the end of this week.

“Within the next few days, we will be able to register you with that online call system,” Justice said.

Bill Crouch

Bill Crouch, the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, described the system to register online. He said it would be able to work with local health departments as well as for individuals.

“Within the next few days, hopefully by the end of the week, we will be able to register you with that online call system so when you call in we’ll be able to take your name and information.

“The system will be able to communicate back with you, using your preferred method — whether that’s text or phone call to let you know when the time comes for your vaccination.”

Crouch said the goal is to reduce a bottleneck.

“We’re trying to reduce calls, we’re trying to move quickly,” he said.

West Virginia officials say 24,181 residents have been fully vaccinated so far.

State figures show 132,192 residents have received a first dose.

The figures show 57,018 of those vaccinated are ages 65 and older.

Everyone wishes the effort would go even faster.

Justice said the state requested more than 100,000 doses this week but instead received about 23,000.

“We’re not getting anywhere close to the doses we’re requesting right now,” Justice said.

Federal officials early last week had announced that doses originally held in reserve for second shots instead would be released. But on Friday, The Washington Post first reported that there is no reserve after all. Instead, vaccines originally intended to be second doses were shipped right off the manufacturing line last month.

That means states that had expected a boost to their available vaccines instead would have a flat supply.

“You can’t put ‘em in people’s arms because we don’t have the vaccine,” Justice said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Justice suggested federal officials should reassess and reallocate the national vaccine supply to reward states that have a high success rate of using their allotments.

“I think performance ought to be rewarded,” he said in today’s covid briefing.  “I hope and pray the Biden administration will really step up to the plate and help us. If they send us vaccines, we’ll put ‘em in somebody’s arm.”

West Virginia Senate Democrats sent out a letter supporting more federal vaccine supply for the state.

“Due to declining shipments of COVID vaccine doses from the federal government, we are unable to meet the needs of our citizens,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“The doses we do receive must be administered in our larger cities, forcing our elderly residents to travel great distances. This is unsustainable and must be quickly corrected. We need your help to get these desperately needed vaccine doses.”

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