Mercer County Health Department

The Mercer County Health Department sign is pictured in this 2019 file photo. 

BLUEFIELD — As the death toll from COVID-19 rises to 74, the Mercer County Health Department is not expecting any new doses this week for those residents 70 and over.

Gov. Jim Justice lowered the age to receive the vaccine from 80 to 70 today as a way to target the most vulnerable population, but rather than receive doses locally this week, residents who are 80 and older are now directed to one of 14 vaccination sites around the state.

The closest one from here is in Greenbrier County.

“We will get no vaccines this week and maybe next week,” department Administrator Brenda Donithan said during a Mercer County Board of Health meeting Wednesday, adding that she understands the National Guard, which usually delivers the doses, is tied up with planning for the inauguration next week and there is nobody to deliver them.

Board member Stacey Hicks, who is president of the Princeton Rescue Squad, said the squad could send an ambulance to Greenbrier County, where a vaccination hub is located, to pick them up and bring them here.

A clinic is set for the State Fairgrounds in Greenbrier County Thursday and includes residents from Fayette, Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers, and Wyoming counties. The clinic is from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Hicks and other board members expressed concern about asking older residents to drive that far.

“It’s ridiculous to put people on the road to get there,” Hicks said, suggesting Donathin call the state and see if Hicks can pick up the doses and bring them here.

“This is an important enough issue that we need to get it taken care of now,” board member Roger Topping said.

They all agreed more vaccines are needed, but should be administered here, and residents could drive all the way to Greenbrier County and then be turned away because it’s unclear how many doses are available, although appointments are requested on short notice with more information available at the health department.

This comes at a crucial time for the county, which sees the death rate as well as the number of new cases keep rising.

Donithan said the county has now had a total of 3,534 cases with 708 new cases just in January and 1,621 cases still active.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com.

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