HUNTINGTON — Slow distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine at the federal level is creating a new type of pandemic anxiety, especially for those at high risk.
West Virginia’s vaccination plan comes in several phases that are often happening simultaneously as the vaccine becomes available, but the rollout also comes with a lot of uncertainty.
Clayton Stover, 30, works in Charleston’s restaurant industry. He said he’s anxiously awaiting his turn to get the vaccine, though he has no idea when it will be.
“I’m frustrated with the communication and rollout though,” Stover said. “I’m afraid this will take way longer than expected to vaccinate enough people in our state, and country, to eliminate this virus. I don’t believe most of 2021 will be much better than 2020. Also I’m afraid a significant portion of the population is scared to get the vaccine and will never get it.”
West Virginia’s allocation of the vaccine was reduced for a second time this past week, West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said Wednesday during the governor’s press briefing. The more than 80,000 doses the state does have are being given to long-term care staff and residents, hospital staff, first responders, some state officials and now those 80 and older.
Gov. Jim Justice’s decision to allow those 80 and older to get the vaccine now as opposed to waiting until the second stage of the vaccine plan — which would be around March — caused some confusion as health departments and other health clinics did not have vaccines set aside when the announcement was made.
“You can get the vaccine now,” Justice said as he wrapped up his press briefing, but in reality, health departments were not ready.
In some cases, like in Charleston, people flocked to the health department to get the vaccine after the announcement. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department had a line outside the building Wednesday and people eventually were turned away. They have been doing vaccines by appointment since, and have run out each day.
On Thursday, a line formed in Wayne County as residents waited, hoping to get the vaccine though there were just 100 doses to give.
In Cabell County, no rush or lines formed, but some residents were able to get the vaccine following Wednesday’s announcement without an appointment. Appointments have been made since.
Dr. Michael Kilkenny, health officer for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said he wished the governor had not made his announcement like he did because health departments did not have the vaccine. Still, he was excited to get the vaccine to older Cabell Countians earlier than the spring.
“It’s tough. We are excited about having vaccine, just like the public’s excited, but when we get some in, it’s not as much as we want,” Kilkenny said. “That’s a challenge. But every dose into a person is one more dose. We give it as fast as we get it.”
Kilkenny said he thinks the supply chain will grow soon, but in the meantime, he feels the same anxiety everyone feels.
“We are going to be hard at it all the month of January,” Kilkenny said. “I think January is a pivotal month. We have the highest number of cases, and we don’t expect that to go away instantly. With continued effort and immunizations expanding and antibody availability expanding, we really are seeing the light on the horizon. We know that we have got the energy to push through and get there.”
The governor’s office and the Joint Interagency Task Force of the state National Guard are working with industries and professional groups to alert people to when they can get the vaccine.
Kilkenny said the health department is prepared for mass immunization locations when the time comes. He said he hopes pharmacies and physicians’ offices will get doses of the vaccine to distribute as well.
Reporter Taylor Stuck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.