Gov. Jim Justice, somewhat belatedly, has come around to admit that the state’s vaccination effort has hit a wall and that, at its current pace, we will not reach herd immunity anytime soon.

On Friday at his pandemic press briefing, the governor said he was asking the best and brightest in his administration to come up with a strategy to convince about 588,000 fellow West Virginians to get a Covid vaccination – over and above those who have already rolled up their sleeves. We take note that the governor also asked his team to work through the weekend. He knows the outcome is critical – to our public health, to our economy, to education at all levels and to reaching some degree of normalcy where we can go about our lives without wondering and worrying about the table next to us at the local restaurant.

To understand the mountain that stands in our way toward herd immunity, the number of people in the state who have been inoculated stands at 553,705 as of Saturday night – about 50,000 fewer than the additional number of people the state needs to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

That’s right, we are not even halfway home and already we are hitting turbulence.

Concerning news? The state has about 250,000 doses waiting for an arm, highlighting the fact that there is a serious lack of takers.

Some folks who have yet to get a shot, no doubt, are hesitant for any one of a number of reasons. Some will have religious objections. Others will have medical justifications. Some, we are sure, are just dead set against vaccinations of any stripe because they are not about to let a virus change their daily activity log.

There is this, too: Men are getting vaccinated at a far lower rate – about 10 percentage points both nationwide and here in West Virginia – than women, even though the male-female divide is roughly even in the nation’s overall population while women have a slight advantage in numbers in the state with a 51.4-48.6 percent separation. The trend – women lining up, men thinking, perhaps, the worst of this is all behind us (with absolutely no thanks to them, of course) – should concern the state’s public health providers as well as the governor. Also, politics seems to be playing an outsized role with supporters of Donald Trump less likely to get a vaccination than those who voted for President Joe Biden. West Virginia, lest anyone forgets, gave just about 69 percent of its vote to the former president.

There are others, however, who are just too busy to spend an hour in line to get that golden shot in the arm, and some who are world-class procrastinators.

The state will need to make the extra effort to go where these people work – and maybe even into their homes and restaurants and bars. Certainly, a bigger push needs to be made at our high schools.

Of particular interest to Justice are young people between the ages of 16 and 35. Covid variants – two have been identified in the state – spread more easily among youth and the illnesses can be more severe. Out of 38,000 state residents 16 to 18 years old, only 9,000 have been vaccinated.

Yes, we need to do better, as the governor has said, because here is the dirty little secret that too few are paying attention to: While the governor and his team watch the vaccination numbers creep ever-so-slowly north, the number of confirmed Covid cases is not appreciably pulling back.

In Raleigh County this past week, there were 263 additional confirmed cases of the disease, 201 the week prior and 239 the week before that. And on the state’s color map on Saturday, the county was Code Red – the worst – one of only two in the state. The New York Times’ Covid tracker agrees, saying the county is at an “extremely high risk” of exposure to Covid-19 as its positivity test rate was at a rolling average of 16 percent over the past two weeks.

Yes, people are still getting sick – right here in our own neck of the woods. People are still being hospitalized, put in intensive care units, intubated and prayed over. Some are taking their last breaths without family holding their hand.

And that is the end game if the state does not rid this insidious disease through herd immunity, through vaccination.

But to get there the state will need to pry the participation out of the herd of the unwilling, one way or another.

— The Register-Herald

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