West Virginia touts COVID-19 vaccination success story as national rollout sputters

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With President Joe Biden pledging to jump-start a vaccination rollout that he has denounced as a dismal failure so far, West Virginia is touting the relative success of its program to inoculate most of its nearly 2 million residents.

The rural state known for its rugged mountain terrain boasts the second highest vaccination rate in the country, thanks to a hyper-local approach, officials say. It is also tied for first place in terms of making use of available doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The effort to get shots into Americans’ arms has lagged in part because the administration of former President Donald Trump left states with no federal blueprint and little funding. Of 38 million vaccine doses distributed by the federal government so far, 46% had been administered as of Thursday, CDC data showed.

West Virginia opted out of a distribution partnership between the federal government and the CVS and Walgreens national pharmacy chains to inoculate residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Instead, it relied on a network of independent pharmacies and by the end of last month it had offered the vaccine to all residents of those facilities.

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John Beckner, senior director of strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association, said that local approach helped build trust with members of the community, especially those in the state’s 214 long-term care facilities.

“It’s a complicated situation when you go into a nursing home,” Beckner told Reuters. “These folks are, for the most part, bedridden, they’ve got complex health conditions. Seeing a familiar face, a trusted face, goes a long way.”

Thursday was the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case detected in the United States. The country reported 4,342 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the highest single day total, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data.

The United States has now recorded more 405,000 deaths and 24.3 million infections since the pandemic began.

State officials in West Virginia say they are proud to have vaccinated about 9.3% of residents so far, second only to Alaska at around 9.8%. West Virginia and North Dakota lead in terms of available vaccine administered, both states having injected 72% of their allocated doses into residents’ arms.

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Donnalie Hope, 78, of Petersburg, West Virginia, said she received her first vaccine dose on Jan. 14 after the health department in a neighboring county telephoned and told her to go to the National Guard Armory in nearby Moorefield.

She said she had been keen to schedule an appointment for weeks.

“I called every day. I said I’m here. I’m waiting,” Hope said. “They were very kind. I explained that I didn’t want to get ahead of anybody. I just wanted to get in line.”

The pace of the vaccine rollout has been sluggish in several U.S. states, including New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has laid the blame on the federal government for the slow pace at which he said it is providing doses.

“Only Jesus, with loaves and fishes, could handle the situation that the federal government created,” Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the Biblical story. “They created such a demand and then they never increased the supply.”

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