FAIRMONT — The Marion County Health Department will soon open a vaccine clinic on Locust Avenue.

Every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the health department and National Guard set up tents in the parking lot down the hill from Fairmont Medical Center. In the tents, anyone can drive through and get a free COVID-19 test.

The health department also administers COVID vaccines for free out of their office on 2nd Street. To offer a convenient location to be tested or vaccinated, the department is now leasing the building at 1343 Locust Ave. from WVU Medicine to transform into a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

This location will house all of the COVID vaccinations the health department currently gives out of its 2nd Street location.

"Our goal is to be able to have one location to do all of our COVID-19 vaccinations," Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White said. "We're just moving these operations over here to convenience the community."

White and his team hope to open at the new location by next week and be prepared in time to administer COVID booster shots to those 65- and older, once West Virginia receives a supply of the vaccine dedicated to booster shots. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's booster shot for anyone 65 and older to be administered six months after their second dose.

Also on the horizon is the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children between 5- and 11-years-old.

However, despite recent news of climbing case numbers, vaccination numbers have actually dropped.

"Vaccination intake went down when the spike increased," Health Department Director of Nursing Megan Payne said. "Lately we've stayed steady at 40 to 50 [vaccinations] a week, but we haven't seen a spike [in vaccinations] like we have with COVID cases."

Throughout the summer, testing clinics held by the Marion County Health Department persisted, despite only one or two cars pulling through to get tested.

August brought the new Delta variant of COVID. This variant has been shown to spread far faster than any previous variant and it's also landing more people in the hospital.

Quickly through August and September, COVID cases shot up in a spike larger than the previous peak of cases in January 2021. Over this past weekend, cases surpassed the previous peak, as did hospitalizations and numbers of patients in the intensive care unit. Currently, active cases in Marion County sit at 587. Meanwhile, only 52.7% of Marion County residents are fully vaccinated, far below the 70- to 80% health officials suggest would create herd immunity to COVID.

The testing clinic down the hill from the hospital have quickly become as busy as ever, according to White.

"For the last two weeks we've been very busy. Each testing event we've had well in excess over 100 tests," White said. "Compare that to what we had been doing prior to that, we would come over here and do three or four tests."

It's not just many jobs and events requiring testing, but the increased number of cases, and even deaths, that drive the uptick in testing numbers.

"When we have an uptick and cases, and a major uptick in deaths, that prompts people to be more inclined to be tested," White said. "We've seen that play out for the last three weeks."

The recent uptick in cases and testing hasn't resulted in a higher number of people getting vaccinated. White and his staff continue to plead with those who are hesitant — "get the vaccine."

"Let's have a conversation. Tell me why you think you don't need [the vaccine]." Payne said. "There's a lot of bad information out there, let's see if we can give you some good information and sway your decision. But that's really all we can do."

The Marion County Health Department offers walk-in vaccinations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday. 

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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