West Virginia: From the worst to the best in COVID-19 vaccination efforts

Ric Griffith's family owned drugstore was one of 250 mom-and pop pharmacies that helped West Virginia become vaccinated when COVID-19 vaccines were first made available.

West Virginia: From the worst to the best in COVID-19 vaccination efforts

Republican Governor Jim Justice appeared on national news to proclaim West Virginia, a state that consistently ranks near the bottom in many indicators of health, "the diamond in rough."

Nine months later, these days are long gone. The demand for vaccines has almost dried up. The question of whether or not to get shot has become a political hot topic. West Virginia's vaccination rates have plummeted to their lowest level among all the states.

Governor, who spent months preaching vaccine virtues to West Virginians reluctant to receive it, is still doing so. However, he is also pushing a new law to allow exemptions for employers to mandate vaccinations.

What about those photos? These photos are mostly on shelves.

Griffith, a Democratic member of West Virginia's House of Delegates, stated Monday that he was afraid that he took a victory lap and discovered there were still more laps to go. Since then, Griffith has been preparing 3,000 pumpkins to be used in a major Halloween event. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so because of the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 41% of West Virginia’s 1.8million residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 49% have received at least one dose. This state has the worst rate in the country, with 89,000 doses per 100,000 people. Nationally, 57% of the population has been fully vaccinated. 66.5% have received at least one dose.

It wasn't an easy task in West Virginia. Justice provided a variety of giveaways over the course of months to encourage people to get their vaccines. Justice rode his pitiful bulldog, the Bulldog, around the state giving away cash, cars and pickup trucks, ATVs and riding lawn mowers, college scholarships, and tickets to athletic events.

This made for great photo opportunities. The state's vaccination rate did not change.

A new wave of illness and death erupted after the fall. Hospitals were overwhelmed by patients. The number of active cases, which was below 1,000 in July, soared to almost 30,000 by mid September before plummeting sharply. The outbreak claimed the lives of approximately 4,400 people.

With nearly 20% of its residents aged over 65, West Virginia is the third oldest state in the country. According to health officials, most virus-related deaths in West Virginia have occurred among those over 65.

Governor continues to urge residents to wear masks to avoid crowds and to be respectful of others. He has also scolded those who are not vaccinated. He said, "We should be very considerate of others." "The more people who are vaccinated the better."

Griffith expressed pride in Justice's tireless efforts to promote vaccines and the apparent love he shows for West Virginians.

Justice, however, ended the statewide indoor mask requirement in June. He has continued to oppose mandatory vaccination and mask requirements ever since. In October, he introduced the GOP-controlled Legislature a bill that allowed workers to be exempted from employer-required COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The law goes into effect January 1.

After President Joe Biden announced his plans to require federal contractors and employees of all U.S. companies employing 100 or more people to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the bill was presented.

Partly because of doubts about vaccine safety and distrust of government, there has been a decline in interest in COVID-19 vaccinations in states where Donald Trump won every county.

Christopher Holmes, 44, from Sissonville said that he and his family had decided not to get vaccinated. Holmes was then infected with the virus in June. He spent 80 days in hospital and lost 110 lbs. Holmes was unable to walk and is still in rehabilitation.

His daughter was the only one who had been vaccinated when he arrived at the hospital. Everyone had received their shots by the time he was released.

Holmes stated, "I don’t want anyone else to go through the same thing I went through." Holmes said, "I hope everyone gets it because you don’t want to take the shot home to your family." It's worth saving one life.

In January of last year, the demand for the vaccine at Griffith & Feil Drug, Kenova, along the Ohio-Kentucky line, was so great that Griffith and his daughter Heidi Griffith Romero had to reduce the daily customer base.

According to data from West Virginia, at least 7.4% received the first dose of the two-dose vaccine in February. The per-capita rate for West Virginia was also higher than any other state.

Reports surfaced in spring about rare, but potentially deadly blood clots caused by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After a short pause, both the CDC and Food and Drug Administration recommended that single-dose vaccinations be resumed.

Romero stated that "the public's faith never seemed to rebound from that."

Now, she sees only five to ten people per week who come in for their first doses. Two to 10 patients are also served by the pharmacy in nursing homes each week.

Romero stated that people feel uncomfortable because of claims about shots' safety that haven't been supported by years worth of research.

Griffith stated that he will spread the word at the Pumpkin House display this weekend, asking thousands of people to don masks to get their first shots or boosters.

He found the low state's vaccine rate disappointing and admitted that the initial giddyness may have been premature.

Griffith was led by Mark Twain to paraphrase his favorite quote.

The druggist stated, "I've studied human race," and found the results to be humiliating.

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