Jim Justice file photo

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

CHARLESTON — A COVID-19 vaccine may be available for widespread use in West Virginia next spring, state officials say, and those who will be the first to be vaccinated could get it by the end of the year or in January.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state Health Officer and head of the Bureau of Public Health, said Friday during Gov. Jim Justice’s pandemic briefing that getting the vaccine to the public “is going to take awhile.”

“My guess would be some time next spring,” she said. “But that is only a guess.”

Justice said it’s possible some of the vaccine will be available sooner.

“We will be really, really be lucky if we have it before the end of the year,” Justice said, adding it should be available the first part of 2021, though, giving the state a “good shot” at vaccinating the priority population of first-responders, medical workers, residents of long-term care facilities and others by then.

But the vaccinations will come in phases, said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state COVID-19 Czar, citing “key requirements” like an analysis by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) and other measures for safety.

When the vaccine is proven to work and is safe, the country will see a “ramping up of the number of doses available,” he added.

Marsh agrees it will be the first quarter of 2021 before it probably becomes more available to many, and during the year “more and more people” will be vaccinated.

Justice also said the state’s vaccination plan has been completed and submitted to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for approval.

Calling it an “amazing report” and plan, he said a team of experts worked on the documents for months.

“We are ready when a vaccine becomes available,” Justice said.

Amjad also said the plan is a solid one.

“We are hoping to lead the country with our documents,” she said of the voluminous plan. “We are ready to go.”

Local health departments also worked to coordinate all of the details of  the plan, from how to store the vaccine to finding local partners to help distribute and administer it to establishing mass vaccination sites.

“We are beginning preparations in trying to get ready,” Brenda Donithan, Mercer County Health Department administrator, said last month, adding that plans include the possibility of having those mass vaccination clinics. “We have to work with the community providers to get ready for that.”

Shannon Hardee, nursing director at the McDowell County Health Department, also said recently they were busy preparing as well for the vaccinations.

“We already have procedures in place related to the vaccination for the H1N1 (swine flu) virus (in 2009),” she said, and that has helped establish a framework.

Justice also said during the briefing that Mercer County has an outbreak of COVID-19 in a church, but the number of cases and the name of the church are not available.

Mercer County joins 10 other counties with active church outbreaks, and he once again cautioned about following proper protocol.

“If you are going to church, protect yourself in every way,” he said.

School outbreaks continue as well.

Justice said 21 schools around the state, including Bluefield High and PikeView Middle. have active outbreaks with a total of 57 confirmed case. An outbreak is defined at least two linked cases in one school.

However, Marsh said there is “no clear case of any spread inside a classroom.”

“The spread is from the community to the classroom,” he said. “We know we will see some cases in schools. We will isolate the group of people who might have been exposed as we do the evaluation.”

But he said the lack of spread inside classrooms is being reflected around the country.

Marsh said that is why the emphasis on community testing is ongoing because it can catch those who are positive, but asymptomatic, and may be spreading it.

“The cornerstone of our ability to stop the spread of COVID-19 in West Virginia is extensive testing,” he said.

Justice said the state continues to reflect a growing number of outbreaks that are being seen around the country as the virus surges again.

“We are absolutely having outbreaks all across our country and we are going to have them in West Virginia too,” he said, pointing to the 60,000 or more positive cases in the nation in one day.

But the increase in positive cases in the state is also being caused by an increase in testing.

“It’s not the worst thing for us to be coming up with additional positives,” he said, adding it is one of the “best things.”

That’s because, he said, positive tests discover asymptomatic spreaders, and getting those isolated and the contact tracing that follows will stop it from spreading further.

On two non-COVID positive notes for the state, Justice said this year should provide more colorful foliage.

“We have unbelievable fall colors,” he said, one of the best years for fall colors in a decade.

The Department of Tourism’s website includes a map of where and when the peak colors will occur.

“Go see the incredible foliage and the beauty of this state,” he said.

Justice also said that at one time he was “really skinny” and could crawl and find his way through the woods to fly-fish in small streams for native brook trout.

That is one reason he wants to see trout stocking expand, he said, and stocking will start Monday in streams around the state.

New trout stocking will also take place in several lakes, including Pipestem Lake.

“We want to have great fishing every day,” he said.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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