Jim Justice file photo

Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a COVID-19 briefing in the photo above. 

CHARLESTON — Another weapon against COVID-19 may be available to state residents as early as next week.

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday during his pandemic briefing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “on its way” after the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) said the one-shot vaccine is safe and effective.

If the FDA approves an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) by Friday, Johnson & Johnson has said it would start shipping doses next week.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 Czar, said the vaccine will save lives.

“This vaccine looks like it is very safe, and it looks like it’s very, very effective – particularly at reducing severe complications, which include people being hospitalized, people going to the ICU, people going on a ventilator, and also deaths,” he said. “There have been no severe complications after the 28-day window and beyond, or any deaths, in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine groups, which span people of many ages and also cover people from many countries. So that’s good news.”

If the vaccine becomes available, Marsh said the state will use it to continue to target those most vulnerable to the virus.

“Given the benefit of saving lives and reducing complications, we hope that the wisdom of the FDA and the CDC will allow us to add this to our current strategy, focusing, as the Governor says, on the elderly part of our population – the vulnerable part of our population,” he added.

Marsh also said since this vaccine requires only one dose and can be stored in a regular refrigerator, it can be easier to use in more rural areas, “where people may have a harder time getting access to the vaccine. Only one dose and it’s easy to store.”

All three vaccines do a “really extraordinary job of saving lives and preventing serious illness,” he said.

Bill Crouch, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary, said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will work well with mobile clinics that go into areas to reach the disabled and others who may not be able to travel.

“Johnson & Johnson will make that much easier,” he said.

Justice said that as of Wednesday afternoon, 9.9 percent of West Virginia’s entire population has received both doses of the vaccines; a rate so high that, if West Virginia were its own country, it would rank as the 7th-best rate of any nation in the world.

“That’s not too bad for little old West Virginia,” he said. “Hats off to all the local health departments, all our community health partners that have been phenomenal, the DHHR, our National Guard – all our people involved – you’ve done a whale of a job. I don’t know how in the world it could possibly be any better.”

The state has administered 443,223 doses after receiving a total allotment of 456,140 doses from the federal government to date; an overall administration rate of 97.2 percent.

The state also has seen a first dose administration rate of 102.7 percent, which exceeds 100 percent due to extra doses being extracted from vials of the vaccine, and a second dose administration rate of 89.4 percent.

During the briefing, Justice also praised the state Department of Education for its mandate to require all K-eighth grade students to attend school five days a week by March 3 (other than those families that chose 100 percent virtual learning through a state program this year).

“I think that is wonderful,” Gov. Justice said. “I absolutely believe, with all in us, that we ought to be back in school full-time. Our kids need it so badly, but our families need it as well.”

The board also recommended high schools return to five days of in-person instruction as well. However, because older students may transmit the virus at rates similar to adults, grades 9-12 may remain with blended instruction if the infection rate in the community is high.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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