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Small, Rural Pharmacies Crucial to High WV Vaccination Rate

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About 20% of West Virginians age 65 and older have been vaccinated, well ahead of the timeline set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Adobe Stock)
About 20% of West Virginians age 65 and older have been vaccinated, well ahead of the timeline set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Adobe Stock)
January 27, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With West Virginia leading the nation in coronavirus vaccinations, one secret to the state's success is having them administered by small, local pharmacies rather than national chains.

About 250 local pharmacists have clinics set up in rural neighborhoods to vaccinate first responders and those most at risk, according to Marla Tolley, a pharmacist at Griffith & Feil Drug in Kenova. She said people who may be wary of getting a shot trust their local pharmacists, and the phones haven't stopped ringing. But she noted that pharmacies are not vaccinating the general public yet. Folks need to get an appointment by registering online or calling their county health department, she said.

"That's challenging, because it's usually, right now, the elderly; some of those do not have the opportunity for internet access, or knowledge of just doing a phone call and getting your name on a list is very challenging," she said. "But please be patient. Everyone is doing their very best."

West Virginians age 65 and older have been discouraged in trying to call for vaccination appointments and not getting through. This week, Gov. Jim Justice announced a new pre-registration website for appointments. Tolley encouraged seniors to get help registering at vaccinate.wv.gov.

The Mountain State has gotten national attention for its 106% vaccination rate, which was achieved by getting an extra, sixth dose out of many vaccine vials. The state's COVID czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, said state officials are pressuring the federal government to boost vaccine delivery. He said West Virginia's network can administer 125,000 shots a week, but only is receiving about 25,000 vaccines weekly.

"As we have seen in other states, right now there is a production issue, and we very much hope that that production issue gets solved very quickly," he said. "And with other vaccines that are coming on the forefront, that should also give us more capability to have access to more vaccines."

As of Tuesday, more than 75,000 West Virginians age 65 and older have been vaccinated, out of about 367,000 in that age group. Justice has said the state still is ahead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention timeline.

More information is online at dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV