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West Virginia’s rural areas feeling pinch of vaccine distribution

RIPLEY — As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, many rural parts of the state are still struggling to get vaccine to meet the demand.

State Del. Steve Westfall, R-12th, of Jackson County, said many health departments are not getting the vaccine or are getting small amounts as the demand continues to grow.

Places like Charleston, the eastern panhandle, Clarksburg and other areas with larger populations are getting the priority for vaccine distribution and causing many in more rural areas to have to drive to one of these locations.

“I don’t believe the people in these rural areas should have to drive, outside of their county, to get this vaccine,” Westfall said.

Many local health departments are set up and ready to be able to administer the vaccine. The problem has been in the supply and the amounts being delivered to the state.

“Anytime they get the vaccine, it is in the arm within 24 hours,” Westfall said. “In Jackson County, they have a waiting list in excess of 2,000 people wanting the vaccine.”

Some people are going to Charleston to get the vaccine, but many older people want to stay close to home and receive it.

Westfall is not sure the state legislature can do much at this point to get more vaccine into the state. As more vaccine is brought into the state, more will be distributed to area health departments so they can be able to do their jobs, Westfall said.

“We will have to wait and see,” he said.

“If our local health department gets 100 doses a week, that is a lot,” Westfall said. “In Jackson County we could take care of 1,000 doses a week.

“They just aren’t getting it.”

Westfall worked with a clinic this past week for people 80 years and above and it only had around 150 doses.

“Those people should not have to go to Charleston or another county to get it,” he said.

Westfall has reached out to Gov. Jim Justice’s office about when more might be coming. The state got around 25,000 to 30,000 doses this past week. He feels the state should be getting around 100,000 a week, but there have been shortages recently nationally.

With 55 counties and 30,000 doses that breaks down to roughly 500 per county.

“We are lucky if we get 100 doses a week,” Westfall said. “We are just not getting it here.”

He is not sure where the blame lies, but he thinks it is more at the federal level right now. As more becomes available, he wants to see more allocated for rural areas and not have it held in the larger areas.

“The smaller counties are just as important as Kanawha County,” Westfall said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., commended a recent announcement by President Joe Biden about more COVID-19 vaccines being purchased and made available soon. Biden announced this week a plan to purchase 200 million more doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna.

“(Wednesday’s) announcement by the Biden Administration shows that help is on the way,” Manchin said in a statement released by his office. “I thank President Biden for staying true to his word and delivering more vaccine so quickly and will continue to work closely with him to further increase our allocation.

“West Virginia is leading the country in efficiently and safely distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Clinics across our state have been operating below capacity because of the vaccine shortage.”

Last week, Manchin spoke with General Gus Perna, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed on COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution about the need for additional vaccines in West Virginia. He received assurances that the Biden Administration is ramping up manufacturing and expects to see an increase in distribution to every state in early February, Manchin’s statement said.

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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