West Virginia's Justice seeks quick approval of COVID booster shots

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is urging the federal government to expedite approval of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, which would provide a third dose to those who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The governor’s request comes as data has shown that vaccine immunity gradually wears off over time. The vaccine can lose about 6% of its effectiveness every two months after a person is fully vaccinated.

“My people are working to try to find a way that we in West Virginia can move right now,” Justice said in a statement.

COVID-19 booster shots are being applied in several other countries and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a third shot for immunocompromised people starting Sept. 8. The CDC says such people should receive a third dose eight months after they received their second dose.

A third shot has been questioned by some doctors and criticized by the World Health Organization. The WHO has urged countries to forgo third shots for now and ensure unvaccinated people have access to the vaccine globally before considering such shots.

Justice urged the federal government to move faster than the proposed timeline.

“West Virginians in long-term care facilities and healthcare settings were some of the first people in the nation to be vaccinated,” Justice said. “We led the nation in getting out our vaccines, did we not? Now, the CDC and the federal government says we need to wait until September 20th for our people to start getting their extra shots. There are so many indicators that say we need to move right now. But right now we can't get past the legalities of Washington to be able to move right this second.”

The governor said the state is ready to immediately provide third shots for people and is only waiting on the legal issues before starting. He announced last week that the state would be providing people with booster shots, beginning with those in long-term care facilities and the elderly.

West Virginia has had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, but elderly people are getting the shot at high rates. At this stage, nearly 91% of those aged 65 and older have had at least one shot of the vaccine and nearly 80% have been fully vaccinated. About 84% of those aged 50 and older have gotten at least one dose and 72% have been fully vaccinated.

Anyone aged 12 or older are eligible to receive the vaccine at this stage, but less than 71% of eligible West Virginians have gotten their first shot and less than 58% are fully vaccinated.

The governor has asked older West Virginians to urge younger people to get the vaccine. The risk of serious illness or death is very low for younger people, but the risk increases for the elderly and those with a compromised immune system or other health issues.

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