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Justice and team push urgency of getting vaccinated to save lives, keep people out of hospitals

MORGANTOWN — With active COVID cases topping 16,000 on Monday, Gov. Jim Justice and his team continued pushing for people to get vaccinated.

Joint Interagency Task Force Director Gen. James Hoyer said 82% of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated and 74% of those who died from COVID in the past 60 days were unvaccinated. He repeated a number first cited by Justice: more than 26% of those who died from COVID in the past 60 days had underlying health conditions.

“With the health conditions that our population has, if we just wait for people to get natural immunity, our death rates and our hospitalizations will be out of control,” Hoyer said.

The team is still pushing for the White House to OK launching its vaccine booster program before the federal Sept. 20 start date. Hoyer said they’ll be talking with the U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday.

“We cannot wait in West Virginia,” he said.

The Pfizer vaccine is right now the only one of the three with full FDA approval for ages 12 and up, so The Dominion Post asked if recipients of all three vaccines would be eligible for the Pfizer booster.

The answer got muddled during the briefing, but Public Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad clarified in an email that after Sept 20, Pfizer and Moderna will be recommending boosters so people should take the same brand as the one they had: Pfizer for Pfizer, Moderna for Moderna.

As reported previously, data for how long the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will last and when boosters might need to start isn’t in yet.

Monday’s numbers were 16,372 active cases, 3,074 deaths, 640 hospitalized, and 203 in ICUs. Among the deaths Justice read at the beginning of his briefing was a 35-year old Monongalia County woman.

“There is no other pathway out of this other than to be vaccinated,” he said.

Justice announced another incentive program — this one launched in conjunction with the existing Healthy Grandfamilies program. Grandparents who are raising their grandkids can get a $150 school voucher if they get themselves and their eligible grandchild (age 12 and up) vaccinated.

Justice took a question on the recent push by a few state senators to have the Legislature call itself into special session to pass a bill forbidding vaccine mandates.

The Senate president’s office told The Dominion Post on Friday that no special session on that issue is currently being considered.

Justice said Monday, “If they want to call themselves in they can surely do that and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

For his part, he’s been avoiding any new mandates in order to avoid provoking division, he said. The Legislature should be encouraging people to get vaccinated.

The Dominion Post followed up on that, asking if he’d veto any bill forbidding mandates, since that would tie his hands.

He said again, “I don’t think that they’ll do that, but they may.”

It’s premature to say how he would feel if they passed a bill, he said. “I think the governor needs to be the governor. … I stand by what I have done, I stand by what the people feel. … I think I’m pushing the right buttons and I think I’m riding the razor blade as best as I can possibly do it right now.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp EMAIL