Just a few weeks ago, West Virginian’s demand for a COVID-19 vaccine far exceeded supply. The vaccine, along with protecting people from the virus, also marked a critical turning point in getting out in front of the pandemic.
West Virginia jumped out ahead of the rest of the country by partnering with pharmacies to get shots in arms of the most vulnerable citizens living in nursing homes.
But West Virginia has hit a vaccination wall. The number of people getting vaccinated has dropped off precipitously. Department of Health and Human Resources figures show just a little over 1,400 people got shots this past weekend.
Overall, just over 50% of eligible West Virginians (age 16 and older) have received a shot. At this pace it could be months before our state is considered fully vaccinated.
Vaccinations for younger West Virginians, who were among the last to qualify for the shots, are lagging. DHHR figures show only about 30% of those 16 to 35 have been vaccinated. Health officials believe that age group is more likely to spread the virus because they tend to be more active socially.
Michigan hospitals are seeing a surge in COVID-19 patients. As The New York Times reported, “But unlike previous surges, it now is younger and middle-aged adults — not their parents and grandparents — who are taking up many of Michigan’s hospital beds.”
How can that be prevented in West Virginia?
Gov. Jim Justice believes he has a way to encourage younger West Virginians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — give every person age 16 to 35 who gets a shot a $100 U.S. savings bond. That is right. Justice said at Monday’s coronavirus briefing that he will use federal COVID-19 relief money to pay younger West Virginians to motivate them to get vaccinated.
“We want to really move this needle, and we want to move it right now,” Justice said. “We have got to get to a situation where we shut this thing down.”
Justice’s goal is for 80% of West Virginians in that 16-35 age group to get vaccinated. That would be about 275,000 people. A $100 savings bond costs $50, so that means a price tag of $13.5 million.
“If we can spend X number of dollars ... we can bring in all these young people and get them vaccinated,” Justice said.
So, it has come to this.
Over a year into this pandemic, after over 150,000 West Virginians have been sickened by the virus and 2,662 have died, after all the shutdowns, canceled events, mask wearing, social distancing, after all the sacrifice by front-line health care workers, after everything, we have to bribe people to get vaccinated?
Justice is just trying something, anything, to get more shots in arms and keep him from having to come out three days a week and release the death toll. But why should he, or any state leader for that matter, have to beg people and lure them with a $100 savings bond so they will get vaccinated?
The vaccines are safe and effective. The incidents of complications are so rare that they are statistically insignificant. You are better off with the shot than without it.
Yes, we are a free and independent bunch in West Virginia. Montani semper liberi and all that. We do not like being told what to do. However, we also are good neighbors and generous toward family and stranger alike.
We should not have to be paid off to do the right thing.