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Officials Friday continued to urge fully vaccinated West Virginians to get COVID-19 booster shots and for parents to get children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated, saying this is a critical time if the state is to avoid another winter surge.

The 5-to-11-year-old age group became eligible for a pediatric dose of vaccine Tuesday.

According to figures on the Department of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 dashboard, through Friday, the state has administered 46,384 booster shots, meaning that just 5.3% of the 873,371 fully vaccinated residents have gotten the booster dose.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar and vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing, cited a Veterans Affairs study that shows a “fairly steep drop-off” in effectiveness of all three COVID-19 vaccines, with a 50% drop-off in effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines six months after the second shot was administered.

James Hoyer, state interagency task force director, said heading into cold-weather months is a critical time for West Virginians to get initial shots or boosters. He said that, while COVID-19 numbers are improving from the record surge that peaked with 29,744 active cases on Sept. 17, there are warning signs, including an uptick in virus transmission rates, patients in intensive care units and patients on ventilators.

He said West Virginia’s age 50 and older population is at greatest risk this winter, as the effectiveness of their initial vaccinations wane.

“We must really attack getting booster doses in these folks,” he said.

Marsh stressed the need for parents to get their 5- to 11-year-old children vaccinated, not only to give them immunity but to reduce the spread of the virus.

“It is really important for parents to get vaccinated themselves, and to get boosted, and to vaccinate their children, including their 5- to 11-year-olds,” Marsh said.

While the DHHR dashboard has added the 5-11 age group to its vaccine summary, as of Friday, it had no data for that age group.

Marsh said the pediatric vaccine is safe, noting that none of the children who participated in the studies leading to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorization on Tuesday had severe side effects.

“People have asked, ‘Is it safe?’ The answer is yes, it is safe,” Marsh said.

He added that the best way parents can protect children under age 5, who currently are ineligible for the vaccines, is to make sure that all other family members are fully vaccinated.

According to the CDC, through Thursday, West Virginia continues to rank last in the nation in percentage of population that is fully vaccinated.

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

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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