West Virginia expands vaccinations to 70-year-olds

Director of Nursing Kathleen Napier prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department in Huntington, W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginians who are at least 70 years old can now receive a coronavirus vaccine, officials announced Wednesday as they lowered the age of eligibility for members of the general public.

The state exceeded 100,000 vaccine doses administered on Wednesday, leading the nation on number of shots given per 100,000 residents. Members of the general public previously had to be 80 years or older to get the inoculation.

This week, statewide clinics will offer 9,700 doses to teachers aged 50 and over.

The state reported 37 new deaths due to COVID-19 and 637 confirmed cases on Wednesday, and the daily positivity rate shot up to over 9%. West Virginia has set weekly virus records in eight of the past 11 weeks.

Gov. Jim Justice said the state will open vaccinations for everyone aged 65 and over once it receives more doses.

As soon as "we know we're going to have that significant amount of vaccines that give us the ability to go to 65, we're going to 65," Justice said at a press conference.

Federal officials have praised the state's focus on vaccinating older residents. First doses were offered at all long-term care centers before the end of last year, and second doses are expected to go out to those facilities this month. Nearly 16,500 people are fully vaccinated with two doses.

Washington is urging states to immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems.

“Expanding eligibility to all of the vulnerable is the fastest way to protect the vulnerable,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said at an Operation Warp Speed meeting on Tuesday, specifically highlighting West Virginia and Connecticut. “It’s simply much easier to manage allocating vaccines and appointments to everyone over 65 rather than narrower, more complex categories, and it enables states to use much more diverse administration channels.”

As the FBI warns of the threat of armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, officials said they remain vigilant.

“At this time, we’re not aware of any credible threats in our region, or to any of the governmental employees or any of our state legislators," said Thom Kirk, deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.

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