West Virginia’s Vaccination Rate Ranks Among Highest In World : Coronavirus Updates : NPR

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice introduced in late December that residents over the age of 80 would be capable of obtain doses of the vaccine from their county well being departments.

Chris Jackson/AP


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Chris Jackson/AP

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice introduced in late December that residents over the age of 80 would be capable of obtain doses of the vaccine from their county well being departments.

Chris Jackson/AP

West Virginia is not recognized for its good well being outcomes. It leads the nation in deaths from diabetes, accidents and drug overdoses. But with regards to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, the state has been a shining star.

It did not begin out that method. In late December, on what was the day that Gov. Jim Justice introduced West Virginians over the age of 80 would be capable of obtain doses of the vaccine from their county well being departments, seniors started lining up instantly — even earlier than doses of the vaccine have been obtainable. Chris Dorst, a Charleston Gazette-Mail photographer for 30 years, was despatched out by his editor to {photograph} the serpentine line of senior citizens she’d seen ready exterior the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, beneath the grey December sky.

“Some people had wheelchairs or walkers — elderly people, and maybe some family members with them in line, just waiting. It seemed to move really slow,” Dorst says.

Behind the scenes at Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, issues have been chaotic. The employees obtained a name from the governor’s workplace at 11 a.m. letting them know they might obtain vaccines to distribute to seniors, only one hour earlier than Justice’s public announcement. As quickly because the governor made the announcement, octogenarians got here down to face exterior the well being division. By the time County Health Director Dr. Sherri Young returned to the constructing with the doses of the Moderna vaccine, it was practically 2 p.m. But the vaccine she’d simply picked up nonetheless wanted to thaw, the road of aged constituents was solely getting longer and rain was within the forecast. Young’s workplace was in a position to repurpose thawed doses of vaccine meant for first responders and ship 210 photographs to the folks in line that day.

In different components of the nation, some beleaguered county well being departments have reported that past making vaccine doses obtainable to them, state governments did nothing to assist them get photographs into arms.

But West Virginia has been profitable partly as a result of the alternative is true.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer is the pinnacle of the state’s COVID-19 Joint Interagency Task Force for Vaccines. Hoyer, who retired as head of the West Virginia National Guard earlier than assuming his position on the head of the vaccine process pressure, noticed Dorst’s hanging {photograph} within the Charleston Gazette-Mail in his morning paper the next day.

“I remember seeing the picture,” Hoyer says. People did not have any data but about the place and when to go, so they simply confirmed up. Hoyer says it was a communications downside he wanted to unravel as shortly as doable. He bought on the cellphone with Young to debate “how we’re going to help her get folks in.”

Many states have relied on digital registration programs — together with the net ticket gross sales web site Eventbrite after their very own web sites crashed — to assist the general public schedule vaccine appointments. But Hoyer says in West Virginia, that is not an amazing possibility. As a lot as 30 % of the state’s inhabitants lacks entry to broadband Internet. Plus, as Hoyer places it, “If you’re talking about people over the age of 70 and in their 80s, how many of them are Internet savvy?”

Hoyer’s group selected a easy answer: a phone hotline. Call it and residents can ask questions on how and the place to get the vaccine, in addition to schedule appointments.

Elsewhere, state COVID-19 hotlines have crashed, impacting cell service typically as networks pressure beneath too many calls. West Virginia’s inhabitants of 1.8 million diminished the possibilities of that occuring. The state determined to not outsource the hotline to a personal firm as some states have accomplished, housing it as a substitute beneath the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Constituent Services. Gov. Justice will get a report each night time on name quantity, wait occasions and appointments scheduled.

“The last time I looked, it was 6 minutes,” Hoyer says disapprovingly, of the hotline’s common wait time. “What that tells us is we probably need more people manning the hotline.”

West Virginia has administered virtually 450,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 9 % of its inhabitants has gotten each doses. Alaska and West Virginia commerce off for first place amongst states for the share of the inhabitants which have obtained each doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. If broadened out to take a look at the entire world, the share of the inhabitants of West Virginia already totally vaccinated would rank third.

“Not bad for a bunch of hillbillies,” Hoyer says.

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