Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday during his regular COVID-19 media briefing that the overall age to get the vaccine in West Virginia has been lowered from 65 to 50.
“We still will prioritize those 65 and older,” he said.
Teachers and school service personnel ages 40 to 50 will also get vaccinated immediately. Justice said there are also plans to vaccinate people 16 and older – plus caregivers – who have a congenital disease or are developmentally disabled.
Some qualifying conditions include Down’s Syndrome, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, developmental and intellectual disabilities, brain injuries and other types of problems that prevent them from taking care of themselves. Medical obesity (BMI over 35), pregnancy and organ or bone marrow transplant recipients are also listed as priorities.
In announcing the lower age threshold, the governor also said nine people have died since Monday from the virus, including a 37-year-old female from Monongalia County.
“Tragic beyond belief,” he said.
There have been 232 cases of the virus reported since Monday, bringing the state’s active cases to 6,451. More than 122,600 residents have recovered and more than 500,000 have received all – or part – of the vaccine.
The governor said 197 people remain hospitalized in the state and 60 are in intensive care. Cases have declined for 46 straight days.
“If you’re 65 and older, go get your test. It’s free,” he said.
State officials said Monongalia County will likely get its normal allotted amount of vaccines next week. The number had been halved because the county’s doses had been diverted to 28 counties that had fallen short of goal in vaccinating the aimed-for percentage of people over 65, said James Hoyer, who heads West Virginia’s Joint Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 vaccines.
“But in fact the bottom line is this: We had 28 counties where we had people over the age of 65 who we were not getting enough doses to,” he said. “We know that population dies at a much greater rate than the rest of the population, and we had to make this adjustment to continue to see that trend that we now have of deaths rates going down and hospitalizations going down.”
He also said that as additional doses come in, the number of vaccines will ramp up.
Statewide, the average age of a West Virginian who dies from COVID-19 is 77.
Justice said he will announce easing of restrictions on businesses during his Friday media briefing, but added safety guidelines must continue to be followed.
“We want to be smart about this, West Virginia,” he said.