June Leffler Published

West Virginia Readies To Administer COVID-19 Boosters

The COVID vaccines are safe an effective, but misinformation keeps many from taking the shot.

COVID-19 booster shots are now authorized for those most vulnerable to the virus. West Virginia officials say the state is standing by to administer third doses of the vaccines.

The Food and Drug Administration said that a third dose of either Pfizer or Moderna can increase protection for those who are immunocompromised. That includes those who have organ transplants, cancer, and who take medication that lowers their immune system. This wouldn’t apply to those with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee made the same recommendation Friday. The CDC now has to issue its final guidance on who exactly is eligible and how they should go about getting a vaccine.

Once this guidance comes out, vulnerable West Virginians will be able to get their booster, state officials said. The state Bureau for Public Health will then issue its own guidance.

“We’ll have to provide a variety of outlets for people to get the vaccine and we’re prepared to do that,” said retired Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer, who leads the state’s vaccine distribution.

Anticipating the FDA and CDC’s decision, Hoyer says he’s been speaking with every player that might need vaccines: nursing homes, pharmacies and hospitals. He’s also gathering information from state and medical organizations to figure out how large West Virginia’s immunocompromised population might be. Federal health agencies estimate that nationwide, it’s about 3 percent of the U.S. population.

But state officials said they are pushing the federal government to expand booster shots to even more people. They’re worried about the state’s older population, especially those in nursing homes. One in five West Virginians is 65 or older.

Because West Virginia was the first state to offer vaccines to every nursing home resident, Hoyer reasons that these folks may have lost some of their protection. International studies and vaccine manufacturers say vaccine efficacy wanes over time.

The state hopes to speed up this process by conducting its own study that can be shared with federal agencies. It plans to test the antibody levels of vaccinated senior citizens to see if their protection against the virus has decreased with time.

“We need booster doses authorized now because we can execute on our most vulnerable population and get them better protected,” Hoyer said.