West Virginia on observe to ship Covid vaccines to all its nursing properties by year-end, governor says

West Virginia is on track to administer Covid-19 vaccines at all of its long-term care facilities by the end of this year, Republican Gov. Jim Justice told CNBC on Tuesday.

It would mark a significant milestone in West Virginia’s efforts to dampen the impact of the coronavirus. Despite making up less than 6% of the state’s coronavirus cases, nursing homes and assisted living facilities represent about 31% of West Virginia’s total Covid-19 deaths, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic. The figures are based on the most-recent data available from last week.

West Virginia began administering shots at its long-term care facilities last week after the Food and Drug Administration granted limited clearance to Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine. The state has since received doses of Moderna’s vaccine after it was authorized on Friday for emergency use.

Last week, West Virginia administered about 8,100 Pfizer-BioNTech doses in 71 of its 214 long-term care facilities, according to Maj. Holli Nelson, a spokesperson for the West Virginia National Guard. On average, about 80% of people at a facility wanted to be vaccinated, she told CNBC. Vaccinations for staff and residents at the remaining long-term care facilities are underway this week, Nelson said.

In an interview on “Squawk on the Street,” Justice said West Virginia was able to begin its vaccinations in nursing homes sooner than in many parts of the country because it leaned on local pharmacies.

“Our great National Guard and all of our health officials came up with an idea to basically recruit all the local pharmacies,” Justice said. He added that West Virginia may have administered its first vaccine dose at its long-term care facilities “before a lot of states get started.” Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines require two shots a few weeks apart.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has partnered with Walgreens, CVS and select other pharmacy chains to administer Covid-19 vaccines in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. CVS and Walgreens started to deliver shots at some facilities Friday, before beginning a broader rollout across the U.S. this week.

More than 40,000 long-term care facilities have chosen CVS to administer vaccinations through on-site clinics, CNBC previously reported. Walgreens will deliver immunizations at about 35,000 long-term care facilities.

Health-care workers and long-term care facility residents were given priority by every state in their initial vaccine allocation plans. In West Virginia, as it prepared its own distribution plans, Justice had “outlined that his priority is the immediate vaccination of the long-term care facility residents and staff,” Maj. Gen. James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard said in an emailed statement to CNBC last week.

“In our discussions, we decided to use a slightly different approach than the plans being used nationwide because around 53-54% of our state’s pharmacies are not chain affiliated,” such as with Walgreens or CVS, Hoyer said.

Long-term care facilities across the U.S. have been particularly hard hit by Covid-19 outbreaks. As the country’s epidemic intensified this fall, the facilities once again saw a surge in cases and deaths. For that reason, the rollout of a vaccine comes at a critical time.

West Virginia is one of 10 states where coronavirus cases are growing, based on a seven-day average, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations for Covid-19 patients also are rising, up 8.4% in the last week, per CNBC’s analysis of COVID Tracking Project data.

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.

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