CHARLESTON — Plenty of coronavirus vaccine doses are sitting unused in West Virginia as a vaccination lottery has yet to fuel a surge in people rolling up their arms.
Leaders on Tuesday pleaded for more residents to get vaccinated amid reports of the more contagious delta virus variant driving up cases in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, said testing has not yet detected the delta variant in the state. “But as different forms of COVID-19 circulate around the world, it will come to West Virginia,” he said at a governor’s news conference. “So, this is really our time with all residents of West Virginia who are vaccine eligible” to get the shot.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice has tried to boost a declining vaccination drive with offers of lottery prizes. The state has vaccinated 60% of all eligible residents aged 12 and over, far off its goal for 65% coverage by June 20, when the indoor mask mandate will be lifted. Data show that the state is less than half a percentage point away from its target of vaccinating 85% all senior citizens.
Demand for the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine “for all practical purposes has almost dropped off completely,” said James Hoyer, who leads the state’s pandemic taskforce. Use of the vaccine resumed after an 11-day pause in April over rare cases of blood clotting. U.S. scientific advisers had decided its benefits outweigh risks.
“People feel much more comfortable with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine,” which require two doses several weeks apart for full effectiveness, Hoyer said.
The state has administered nearly 84% of all vaccine doses in stock. Hoyer said there was “a continued steady flow of people” getting shots, but that plenty of doses were remaining on shelves.
West Virginia’s vaccine sweepstakes includes prizes ranging from hunting rifles to $1 million. The first prizes are set to be announced June 20, which also marks West Virginia’s birthday and the end of the mask mandate. The giveaways, which also include Rocky Ridge version Ford F-150 trucks, weekend getaway packages, and college scholarships, will conclude on Aug. 4.
Justice pointed to the state’s 2,822 coronavirus deaths to urge more young people to get their shots.
“How many of your moms and dads, how many of your grandparents, how many of them are we going to have to lose in order to be able to just say ... ‘I’m going to step up. I’m going to get vaccinated.’”