West Virginia battles Covid surge after failing to build on early vaccine success
West Virginia was once one of the leading US states in rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations. Now it is one of the least vaccinated, with the fastest-growing rate of infections in the country. Health systems are overwhelmed, with record numbers of patients in hospital, in intensive care units and on ventilators.
West Virginia rushed to vaccinate those over the age of 65 and residents of long-term care facilities, reaching good levels of protection among those groups.
Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, has been a vocal supporter of vaccination, regularly urging constituents to get the jab. The state was among the first to offer vaccination incentives, including $100 savings bonds and a lottery, named for Justice’s English bulldog Babydog, to award scholarships, a car, a pontoon boat and more. He has spoken out sharply against conspiracy theories and criticized health workers who turn down the vaccine, calling the decision “asinine”.
Even so, only 39.9% of West Virginians are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, tying with Wyoming for the lowest rate in the country. According to West Virginia’s health department, that rate is much higher, at 51.7%; the reason for the discrepancy is not clear.
“This has been more severe than we’ve seen at any other point in the pandemic,” Dr Clay Marsh, head of the state’s Covid response, told the Guardian. And the Delta variant is making younger people significantly sicker than in previous waves, he said.
West Virginia has the fastest acceleration of new cases , given its population of about 1.8 million, with a 52% increase in new cases in the past week. The numbers of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and people on ventilators for Covid-19 have all broken previous records and continue rising.
“I believe more people are getting very anxious over what they’re seeing in West Virginia,” Marsh said, and the recent surge in cases has resulted in an uptick in vaccinations.
The vast majority of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, Justice said at a news conference on Friday, and that is especially true of those in the ICU and on ventilators.