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Pfizer, one of three companies manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine, has reported that studies show its vaccine is safe and effective for children previously ineligible to receive immunizations against the pandemic.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration might soon approve the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. That’s welcome news to many, especially as new variants of the virus have increasingly infected and affected children virtually immune to the original strain.

Many of these children are back in West Virginia schools, where public health policies have varied. Earlier this week, there were 88 outbreaks reported in West Virginia schools. A vaccine for children could wipe out such threats in the future.

But a vaccine only works if you take it. And that will be the challenge for West Virginia.

Statistics from the state Department of Health and Human Resources show only 46.4% of residents are fully vaccinated, despite vaccines being in ample supply since early spring. Among the eligible population (those age 12 and older), the number for full vaccination is 53.3%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited West Virginia as the worst state in the nation for vaccination rates.

Gov. Jim Justice teased at a briefing Monday that those figures might change, but public health officials and members of the governor’s COVID-19 task force have made it clear to the public that not enough West Virginians are getting vaccinated, and the results have been nearly catastrophic.

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As the state witnessed, active COVID-19 cases were below 1,000 in July, but vaccination rates were still low. When the delta variant hit, those low vaccination rates helped the virus spread faster, and West Virginia soon became the state with the highest acceleration rate in the nation. Cases and hospitalizations soared past record highs seen in the winter (last Friday, there were nearly 30,000 active cases) and more deaths piled up, almost all of them among the unvaccinated.

Now, active cases are again dropping drastically, but Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar, and retired Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, director of the state COVID-19 interagency task force, warned that hospitalizations and deaths would peak later than active case numbers and would increase over the next two to six weeks. Not only will more West Virginians get sick and die, but hospitals will be strained.

This was all preventable, had more people had gotten vaccinated, and public health officials say there’s nothing to stop it from happening again, if the situation doesn’t change.

On Tuesday, Hoyer told MetroNews’ “Talkline” host Hoppy Kercheval that, if West Virginia doesn’t reach a vaccination rate of 80% of the population, once the the weather cools and more people congregate indoors, another surge is guaranteed.

Right now, the state is nowhere near that number. West Virginians have yet to come close to the 65% target Justice set in the spring to hit by June 20. A major shift will have to occur, and quickly, if West Virginians want to prevent this from becoming a continual cycle.

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