June Leffler Published

West Virginians Finding COVID-19 Vaccines Any Way They Can


West Virginia is getting more COVID-19 vaccines and more people are eligible for their shot than ever before. How people access their first shot is changing, too.

Some residents are stumbling upon available doses through social media or word of mouth tips. Instead of waiting for a call, folks are keeping their ears to the ground and jumping at the chance to get a vaccine sooner rather than later.

That’s exactly what happened at a Walgreens pharmacy on Charleston’s West Side on Tuesday. At any given time, a dozen cars filled the parking lot of that Walgreens store. On March 16, the lot overflowed with as many as 50 cars.

Marissa Sanders, 44, heard there were vaccines available, and hurried on down.

“So I didn’t know what to expect. And I actually stood in the wrong line for a couple minutes,” she said.

Once Sanders found the right line, she saw that it snaked up and down the store aisles, and she worried she might not get her dose.

“I didn’t know if there would still be any left. But I thought, well, it’s worth a shot,” Sanders said.

A subtle chaos circulated through the store. The small staff worked at the pace of a fast food joint during lunch hour — registering people, manning the drive through window, and putting shots in arms. They kept it up from late afternoon to almost midnight, giving shots to about 130 people.

Those in line chatted as they waited, and almost no one complained.

“I was really excited when I found out I could do that,” said 53-year-old Andrea Akers. She was not expecting to get the vaccine that day, but someone at her work tipped her off.

“I heard there were no restrictions. So I hopped in the car and came down,” Akers said.

She and her husband received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The number of doses coming to West Virginia has tripled in about a month. And due to a recent federal program that sends doses directly to pharmacies, there’s even more available. These pharmacies aren’t beholden to the state on how doses are allocated. Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer told West Virginia Public Broadcasting even he is not sure exactly how many doses are coming through that program.

Sometimes an appointment isn’t necessary. Residents just need to know where to go.

“We got the information actually from Facebook from a friend. So we just dropped on a dime to come down here and are hoping for the best,” said Patrick Racer, 32, who drove 30 miles from Jackson County.

While the state has pushed the central pre-registration website and hotline as the go-to place to sign up for a vaccine, clearly there are more proactive ways to get a shot. And Jamie Miller was just one of those letting people know where to go.

“I’m just literally passing along information, which is what West Virginians do,” she said.

Miller doesn’t work for the state or the National Guard. She is an artist and activist, and has almost 1,000 Twitter followers. People send her tips and she shares them as widely as possible.

“People are so desperate to get vaccinated and to get back to somewhat normal that it just kind of spread like wildfire,” Miller said.

She encourages everyone to listen to their neighbors and stay ready.

“If you hear about something, you check it out, and you go and try to get the vaccine any way that you can,” she said.

While many are keeping their ears to the ground, there are a number of things they can do to stay proactive. First, pre-register on the Department of Health and Human Resources website. Also, they can give their local health departments a tap on the shoulder by calling and letting them know they are waiting. Also, state residents can reach out to their local pharmacies along with checking their Facebook or Twitter feeds.