West Virginia Leads The Nation In COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

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A needle and a phial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are used to prepare a dose. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)
A needle and a phial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are used to prepare a dose. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

West Virginia continues to lead the country in the number of people per capita who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of early this week, more than 105,500 doses have been distributed statewide.

Retired Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, leader of West Virginia’s Joint Interagency Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccines, is playing a large role in making sure the distribution process goes smoothly. He says it’s no exaggeration when Gov. Jim Justice says 100% of the vaccines distributed in the state have either been administered or are scheduled to be given.

From the local level upward, the state has been in rhythm with Operation Warp Speed, Hoyer says. They’ve been able to identify specific populations who need the vaccine ahead of time to sync with when the vaccines arrive.

“We've been averaging 86% execution rate — meaning shots in arms — a week. But this week, we will far surpass that,” he says. “And I think part of that is having those people identified to get those vaccines.”

Compared to the rest of the country lagging behind, West Virginia’s vaccination accomplishments stand out. But it’s been no small feat, he says.

Hoyer says early on, Gov. Justice gathered the state’s key players and laid out a plan that outlined their fundamental priorities — reduce the rate of hospitalizations and deaths, protect the most vulnerable citizens and maintain acute health services based on the needs of West Virginia’s population demographics.

“By combining those priorities with that construct and then going after and building a network to deliver the vaccines, I think that's where we had success early on,” he says.

Health officials in West Virginia aren’t relying solely on big pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens in their distribution efforts. Utilizing a network of local pharmacies, regional clinics, federally qualified health clinics and hospitals has amplified their efforts to get as many doses into arms as possible, he says.

The state has constructed a system where a federally qualified clinic knows how many patients they have in certain age buckets, so they are prepared to call specific groups in when a new shipment of vaccines arrives. Hoyer says a plan is underway to get the vaccine to West Virginians with mobility limitations.

The National Guard has been tapped to work with the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources to assist with epidemiology data, he says. In addition, National Guard members are managing delivery operations at vaccination hubs.

The state is also manufacturing its own personal protective equipment in preparation for another potential hospital surge, he says.

Gov. Justice continues to push the federal government for more vaccines, something Hoyer agrees the state needs.

“As the governor tells me every day, ‘Jim, every shot we get in an arm is potentially saving a life,’ ” he says.

Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 15, 2021.


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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.


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Serena McMahon was a digital producer for Here & Now.



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