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$1.8M coming to West Virginia to fight COVID variants

WASHINGTON — More than $1.8 million dollars is coming to West Virginia to fight the COVID-19 variants, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Monday.

The state will receive $1,884,569 through the American Rescue Plan, said Manchin, D-W.Va.

State health officials in the past month have announced four variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus — the UK, California, South African and most recently the Brazilian strains — have been found through testing in West Virginia.

“As more and more West Virginians receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we must continue to listen to the guidance of medical professionals and the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants,” Manchin said.

James Hoyer, who heads the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force on Vaccines, which manages the vaccine distribution and administration in the state, again urged residents to get vaccinated during Gov. Jim Justice’s Monday morning pandemic briefing.

“We are in a race,” Hoyer said. “These variants that are coming, like what (Dr. Clay Marsh and Dr. Ayne Amjad) will tell us, are much more contagious and can be much more detrimental to our health as well as much more deadly.”

Progress has been made, but a segment of the population remains that must be vacinated, Hoyer said.

The state is awaiting the emergency use authorization to administer Pfizer vaccine to residents 12-15 years old, Amjad, West Virginia health officer, said. The Pfizer serum is authorized for residents 16 years old, unlike the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

The discovery of the variants in West Virginia is concerning because of the higher rate of transmission and mortality, Manchin said.

“This funding from the American Rescue Plan will help West Virginia identify and track new variants of COVID-19 virus to help us defeat this pandemic,” he said.

New and potentially dangerous strains of COVID-19 now make up half of all cases in America, Manchin said. Funding is allocated through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will be used to help West Virginia more effectively detect and track variants through genomic sequencing, the process by which COVID DNA is decoded and potentially deadly mutations in the virus are detected.

This is the first allocation of funding with a second portion to be invested over the next several years, he said.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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