CHARLESTON — Vaccination rates among young adults in West Virginia are lagging as COVID-19 cases are ticking back up.
Gov. Jim Justice on Friday reported 80 more West Virginians died of COVID-19 since his last briefing Wednesday, bringing the pandemic death toll to 3,722. Active cases increased by almost 700 in the last two days — from 13,334 on Wednesday to 14,014 cases recorded Friday.
Justice and state health officials spoke about the state’s months-long fight to get over the vaccine hesitancy slump that has landed West Virginia in last place nationally for fully vaccinated residents. The governor has spent the last few weeks painting West Virginia at the peak of its virus outbreak, but said Friday that status has not changed.
“From the surge standpoint, I do believe we’re at the peak of the surge … but we really haven’t started down yet,” Justice said. “We’re still really just hanging right in there right at the peak.”
Only 36.6% of West Virginians 26 to 30 and 39.6% of those 21 to 25 are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Those shares aren’t where state officials hoped they would be at this point in the pandemic, though there’s time for young West Virginians to reverse course, said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar.
In the meantime, Justice said, the death toll will continue to mount.
“I hate to say anything like this, but we all know we’re going to continue to lose people, aren’t we?” Justice said. “And to be perfectly honest we’re going to probably still lose a lot, a lot of people.”
The governor repeated his pleas for West Virginians to get vaccinated, saying it’s the only way to slow the surge.
“The only way we can stop it is what I told you and told you and told you and told you: The only way in the world we’re going to stop this is to get vaccinated,” Justice said. “And for those that have been fully vaccinated that are out now over six months (since their second dose), you’ve got to go get that booster shot.”
Health officials recommended anyone 18 or older to get a booster shot if they are eligible.