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Medical students not getting vaccines

Marsh says don’t deal directly with COVID patients, concerns considered

As West Virginia continues to vaccinate residents 70 and older as well as health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients, fourth-year WVU medical students have not yet received shots, prompting concern from students and their family members about safety,

But Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of health sciences at West Virginia University, said he plans to meet with medical school students and students who are clinically active in the next “eight to 10 days” to hear and address their concerns. 

“We are very aware of their concerns,” said Marsh, who is also serving as the state’s coronavirus czar. 

“From a parent standpoint, I am aware of their concerns.”

Still, a parent of a fourth-year medical student who contacted The Dominion Post about this issue said in an email, “it seems WVU does not classify 4th year students as health care workers for the pandemic — even though they make hospital rounds and talk to patients — and hence they have not yet been vaccinated.”

“Why would [they] be sending in health care workers to hospitals without the best available equipment/resources available?” asked the parent. The Dominion Post agreed not to identify the parent so as not to identify the student.

Marsh said WVU’s fourth-year medical students and clinically active students do not interact with COVID-19 patients, nor with anyone who is suspected of having the virus. 

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our main goal has been to save lives and maintain the capacity and function of vital health care and community services,” he said. 

 “With a limited number of COVID-19 vaccines available to us, we have constructed a priority scheme that Gov. Justice has approved to distribute and administer vaccines to the most vulnerable and those who are most directly responsible for staffing the Emergency Department, ICU’s and COVID-19 units,” he said. “We recognize that every life has value, and we want to get the vaccine to every single person who wants to be vaccinated.” 

The vaccines will next be distributed to health care and critical community workers aged 50 and older, he said.

Marsh said a task force is being created with representation from health care professional schools that have students in clinical settings to recommend the selection of specific students for initial vaccination.

“Due to limited supply, we must distribute first to our most at-risk. In doing so, we help alleviate the burdens on the capacity of our health care system and protect the workers who serve it, including our students,” he said.  “As more vaccine becomes available, we are committed to vaccinating each health care professional, student and employee. We are also working to acquire more supply of PPE for our health care professionals and students.”

Separately, Dr. Kara Willenburg, chief of infectious diseases for Marshall Health in Huntington and associate professor for the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, said their medical students have been offered the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the vaccines need to go to those who are at-risk. This includes health care workers who interact with COVID-19 patients, staff and residents of nursing homes, people 80 and older and certain essential workers.

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