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With hospitalizations of fully vaccinated West Virginians creeping up over the weekend, state officials on Monday urged eligible residents to get their Pfizer vaccine booster shots.

James Hoyer, state interagency task force director, said West Virginia has administered about 13,000 booster shots since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday approved the third dose of Pfizer vaccine for people age 65 and older, those with underlying chronic health conditions and front-line workers.

“We had good success with the boosters being rolled out,” Hoyer said during Monday’s state COVID-19 briefing.

That vaccination rate was not reflected on the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard Monday, but, as Hoyer noted, there is a lag in reporting vaccinations.

Gov. Jim Justice also urged eligible West Virginians to get their booster shots, saying, “We jumped out of the gate and led the nation in a lot of ways. Let’s lead the nation in this.”

Justice made his comments hours after CNN posted an analysis on its website titled, “How West Virginia became a COVID-19 disaster.” It concluded that the political divide over the COVID-19 pandemic is clearest in the Mountain State:

“West Virginia had been a success story for vaccinations. Back in early March, West Virginia ranked in the top four in terms of the adult population that was vaccinated. The state and Gov. Jim Justice received widespread praise for its vaccine rollout,” the article states.

“But now, West Virginia ranks last in the country for the percentage of the adult population that is fully vaccinated. Just 48% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This makes West Virginia the only state in the country where less than half the adult population is fully vaccinated.”

As he does frequently, Justice set a contradictory tone on Monday, calling on all unvaccinated West Virginians to get their shots, but adding, “We’re always going to be respectful of your freedoms, all your freedoms.”

Justice noted that the record August-September surge in cases continues to show signs of plateauing, with active cases dropping below 15,000 for the first time since Aug. 28.

Hospitalizations, patients receiving treatment in intensive care units and patients on ventilators also were down slightly from pandemic peaks, with 978 hospitalizations, 291 ICU patients and 193 patients on ventilators.

The rate of COVID-19 deaths also appears to be slowing, with the governor announcing 45 deaths since the Friday briefing, bringing total state deaths to 3,568.

Justice put that number in context with the initial projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which, at the start of the pandemic, projected that West Virginia would have 64 COVID-19 deaths.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Justice said. “At the time, we were at nine or 10, something like that.”

Meanwhile, breakthrough cases requiring hospitalizations continued to inch up over the weekend, with 183 fully vaccinated people hospitalized as of Monday, accounting for 18.7% of total hospitalizations.

Breakthrough cases also accounted for 14.1% of ICU cases and 11.9% of patients requiring ventilators to breathe.

“It tells us we really need to get our booster shots,” Justice said.

The CDC approved the booster shots Friday, after studies showed the effectiveness of the vaccine begins to fade after six to eight months, particularly in older people with weaker immune systems.

Justice also called on parents and grandparents to get children ages 12 to 18 vaccinated, citing 1,000 confirmed cases Monday of COVID-19 among students in school systems statewide.

The governor said there are undoubtedly additional asymptomatic students attending school.

According to the DHHR, as of Monday, only 37.3% of 12- to 15-year-olds were vaccinated, the lowest of any age group, and only 48.2% of 16- to 20-year-olds, the third-lowest age category.

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, said federal authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds is imminent.

He also said he is confident that approval of booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will quickly follow approval of the Pfizer booster.

Phil Kabler covers politics. He can be reached at 304-348-1220 or Follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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