State officials express need for COVID boosters with breakthrough cases rising

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More then half of West Virginia’s COVID-19 breakthrough cases are among senior citizens, which is why state officials say they need to be first in line to receive booster shots.

Secretary Bill Crouch

“Approximately 53 percent of our breakthrough cases are in nursing homes, so that’s very concerning to us,” said state Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing at the state Capitol.

A breakthrough case refers to an individual who has been fully vaccinated and then developed COVID-19.

As of Thursday, there were 3,356 breakthrough cases in West Virginia out of the 137,147 confirmed cases.

“That is only .36 percent of the total 895,000 individuals who have been vaccinated,” Crouch explained. “We have breakthrough cases, but those cases are not as severe. Individuals are at low risk, less than one percent, of dying if they’ve been vaccinated.”

State figures from the DHHR Dashboard show 61 people who were fully vaccinated died of the virus. The total number of deaths has surpassed 3,000.

James Hoyer

State InterAgency Task Force Director Jim Hoyer said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline” the breakthrough deaths include older West Virginians with underlying health conditions.

“They are people who already had significant health issues, so if you’re relatively healthy and you have a breakthrough case, your chances of losing your life to COVID are exceptionally low,” Hoyer said.

There were 428 COVID patients on Thursday. Hoyer said the current rate of hospitalizations is alarming compared to the previous surge.

“It took us 50 days from the start of this second surge to get there. In the first surge that we had, to get to 428, it was 129 days,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced COVID booster shots would be made available to the general public on Sept. 20. The third shot would be for those who have been fully vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna.

Hoyer said West Virginia officials should be provided booster shots before any other state given the state’s aging population.

“We got to speed up the process because we know West Virginia was the first in the country to fully vaccinate every nursing home resident and staff person who would take the vaccine,” he said. “We’re well at our eight month point.”

By September, Hoyer said the state will need 200,000 doses of the third shot.

“We’re working to get a call with FDA officials. We want to be a pilot state. We want to go ahead and move out while they still go through their final approval process,” he said.

Marty Wright, CEO of the West Virginia Healthcare Association, represents most of the long term care facilities in West Virginia. He said on Thursday’s “Talkline” they already have plans in place, they’re just waiting on federal approval.

“We’re ready. We just got to be given the go ahead,” Wright said.

More than 57 percent of West Virginia’s population over the age of 12 has been fully vaccinated.

Governor Jim Justice said he plans on announcing a new incentive program Friday to get more shots in arms for young people.

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