CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Up to a quarter of senior citizens who have pre-registered for a coronavirus vaccine through West Virginia's state system have yet to book an appointment, the health secretary said Friday.
About 22 percent to 25 percent of residents 65 and over don’t have a shot scheduled yet, said Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources. But he added “a lot of these individuals,” making up a total of 11,000 to 12,000, may have separately found an appointment through a local pharmacy or clinic.
“We're moving very quickly to get that list down,” Crouch said at the governor's press conference.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice has a goal of vaccinating 85 percent of the state's senior citizens. He said this week over 70 percent are at least partly vaccinated. The state opened three new regional vaccine clinics in Kanawha, Berkeley and Monongalia counties for residents 65 and over, who are urged to call the state's vaccine hotline at 1-833-734-0965 if they are still waiting for an appointment.
“We will get you in that day if you call us,” Justice said.
“We want all West Virginians now above the age of 65 to get your vaccine,” he added. "And to be perfectly honest, we have the supply that we’re going to end up putting stuff on shelves if you don't come and you don't come in droves to get the vaccine.”
The state expects another increase in doses from the federal government next week.
Justice opened up vaccine eligibility to all residents aged 16 and older this week. The state is turning its attention to immunizing younger residents 16 to 29, seen as key to stopping the spread of more virulent coronavirus variants.
Through collaborating with local boards of education, the state plans vaccination clinics “tied to high schools to target that population,” said James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force.
Family members of students can also show up to at those high school events to be vaccinated together. Vaccinations are also being planned at colleges and universities.
Over 26% of the state's 1.78 million population is at least partially vaccinated, according to state data. About 16.5 percent of residents are fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,628 in West Virginia. Four additional deaths were reported Friday.
Meanwhile, coronavirus hospitalizations continued to increase, up 231 patients, a 53 percent jump from two weeks ago. The daily percent positivity rate is 3.85 percent, under the 5 percent mark that is seen as a good sign.
The Justice administration announced a new financial assistance program for renters and people behind on utility bills due to the pandemic. Households with incomes at or below 80% of area median income can apply to cover past due rent and utility bills through the Mountaineer Renter Assistance Program. Payments from the state go directly to landlords and utility companies. Eligible individuals may also qualify for a $300 internet stipend.