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Protocols: No room for error in vaccinations

For the most part, the West Virginia National Guard has done a fantastic job as it stepped up to meet the needs of Mountain State residents faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. They have put themselves in harm’s way at testing sites across the state, distributed personal protective equipment and served as vital support to the first responders, medical personnel and health department staff fighting against this plague.

But events of the past week or so show there is still room for improvement in their organization and procedures as we move into the vaccination phase. We knew already that either 42 or 44 people (they aren’t even sure of the number) in Boone County who thought they were receiving the vaccine last week instead received the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals antibody treatment. Boone County officials say the mix-up was not theirs, and that county workers “signed a chain of custody form that said, ‘Moderna covid-19 vaccine,'” when they went to Charleston to pick up the boxes.

Only after injections had been given did the Boone County Health Department receive a call from the National Guard saying there had been a mistake; and Boone County was not alone.

According to Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch, health department officials who went to Charleston recently to get a supply of vaccine were almost back to Parkersburg when they were contacted by the West Virginia National Guard telling them to come back. They, too, had received a supply of antibodies and had to bring it back.

At least in appears as though Boone County was the only place moving quickly enough that actual injections were made. Just as concerning as the mistake is Couch’s report that Wood County, when its health department returned the antibodies, did NOT then receive the vaccines it had expected.

Across West Virginia, folks are already lining up for more vaccines than are available. The need is desperate. It is essential, then, that National Guard officials figure out what caused the early mistakes and put protocols in place to safely speed the vaccine distribution process to those who need it. They got lucky no one appears to have been harmed by the mistaken injections in Boone County. But any delay in getting the vaccine to our most vulnerable residents can cost lives, too.

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