CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thousands of West Virginia’s older residents are growing more and more frustrated with the busy signals they’re getting when they call to schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination.
There have routinely been more calls than doses available for any one clinic. Waiting lists have thousands of names on them and most clinics this week are being filled with those names.
West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Robert Roswall told MetroNews Wednesday it’s not an easy time for senior citizens.
“I understand the frustration. I have family members that are in that same category. They are on a waitlist in other counties,” he said.
The state has now opened vaccination clinics to those 65 and older. Clinics are scheduled to be held in 16 counties Thursday and Friday.
Roswall said his best advice is for seniors or those who are helping them is to keep calling to get a spot on a list.
“Don’t give up on that. (Health departments) are working on that as quickly as they can. As they always say, it depends on how many vaccine doses come into the state. When they come in they go out,” he said.
Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday the state could have all of its residents 65 and older vaccinated by Feb. 7 if the federal government would provide more doses of the vaccines.
The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg is now helping the Greenbrier County Health Department answer its vaccination-related calls.
WVSOM President Dr. James Nemitz said those with the school’s Center for Rural and Community Health have helped the health department create a hotline and a data management program.
“Any calls coming in–we can accept those calls. We can get people on the list. That’s what was so confusing to people, they weren’t sure they were getting on the list,” Nemitz told MetroNews Wednesday.
More than 700 residents called during the first three hours the hotline was set-up Tuesday.
“For those people who want vaccine, they want it now. They want it as soon as they can get it and so we’re trying to do our best to help that process,” Nemitz said.
The Greenbrier County vaccine hotline number is 304-664-4147.
State Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Roswall said the state hotline is also a good option at 1-833-734-0965. He said seniors can receive information there about scheduled clinics and how to get on a waitlist.
His advice for seniors is not to give up and not to get frustrated.
“Get on the list as soon as you can and continue to distance, wear your mask and stay six feet away from people,” Roswall said.
State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said Tuesday the state would soon rollout a new system that will allow residents to call or go online to register for a vaccination. He said it will include a mechanism that will contact the resident with an appointment time and location.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said Wednesday that he’s talked with the new administration about getting more vaccines to West Virginia.
“I am working with the incoming Biden Administration to get more vaccines to West Virginia, so that state and local leaders can plan for the appropriate vaccines they should have had all along. While it may take some time to right the ship, help is on the way,” Manchin said in a statement before Biden was sworn-in Wednesday.
Roswall said the Bureau of Senior Services is currently working with the state Joint Inter-Agency Task Force to develop a network that will create ways for home-bound senior citizens to be vaccinated.
“We have a large in-home service clientele that we deal with. Some of them may be (getting their vaccinations) in home, some may be transported to the sites. It’s going to vary. It’s not going to be one-size-fits-all on how they will be vaccinated,” he said.