W.Va. governor lowers age limit to get COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 11:09 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is lowering the overall age to get the coronavirus vaccine in the state.

It will be lowered from age 65 to 50 in West Virginia beginning Wednesday, Justice announced during his COVID-19 news conference.

Now, all West Virginians over the age of 50 can get the coronavirus vaccine, according to Gov. Justice. The state will still prioritize those who are age 65 and above, but this will open the floodgates for others.

“We are going to have more vaccines available to us, and we want to keep pushing and pushing and pushing them out,” Justice said. “This whole thing, we have this thing on the run and we are going to chase it to the ends of the Earth and get it gone.”

Fifty was selected as the new vaccination age because 97 percent of COVID-19 deaths in West Virginia have been people over the age of 50, COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said. West Virginia has seen COVID-19 deaths decrease greatly since the start of 2021, Marsh said. They have fallen from 175 the first week of January to 25 in the last week of February.

Under these new guidelines, teachers and school service personnel ages 40 to 50 will also start getting their vaccinations, in addition anyone over the age of 16 with certain health issues.

Phase 2-A West Virginia
Phase 2-A West Virginia(Governor Jim Justice)

Vaccinations will still be by appointment only and people must be registered through the state’s COVID-19 system. You can access that system through the WSAZ COVID-19 Vaccination Guide.

People over the age of 50 will be contacted in the order they registered for the vaccine, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said. However, there are a number of priority groups, including people over the age of 65, that will be bumped ahead of the general population.

“Date is still important, as we have said for a couple of months now,” Crouch said. “Age is the primary factor in terms of these vaccinations, so we are working real hard to make sure those lists get out properly (to local health departments).”

“Now, we have a new list that we are looking at, those individuals will be added to lists that go out to counties, but the date of that information and that people still register is still important in terms of pushing those lists out,” Crouch continued.

Vaccine providers are beginning to administer the shot to people over the age of 50 this week, including the Kanawha Charleston Health Department. Their Saturday vaccination clinic will also include the county’s first doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as part of a pilot program.

“It gives us a lot more bandwidth in terms of who we can vaccinate and who we can get to,” KCHD Health Director Dr. Sherri Young said about the new age guidelines. “That gives the ability to do more popup clinics. It is easier to manage in terms of getting out to communities. This is really good timing in terms of opening up the flood gates with who can get vaccinated and getting those vaccines in arms.”

Dr. Young said they have started looking at vaccinating people in other settings using their current clinic model. She said it can be scaled up or down depending on a community’s need, and that could include outside events at parks or football fields as the weather gets warmer.

“Bringing that age range down to 50 gives us a lot more bandwidth to get vaccinated,” Dr. Young said. “Now, you are talking about people who are in the workforce, people who could be spreading COVID. So, as we are looking at a possibility of variants and other issues moving forward, it is imperative that we get those people vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Gov. Justice also said he plans on reducing restrictions during his next COVID-19 news conference on Friday, March 3. This would come two weeks after he increased restaurant and business capacity on Feb. 19.

“We want to be safe and we want to maintain as much health as we can, but we’ve got to keep on living,” Justice said. “We’ve got to keep moving, what I call moving North all the time. So, we are absolutely going to back up these guidelines and loosen them up a little more. I think it will only be more beneficial to all of us.”

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