CHARLESTON — With state COVID-19 vaccination rates plummeting, Gov. Jim Justice on Monday again implored the roughly 650,000 eligible West Virginians who have not yet been vaccinated to step up.
“Let’s finish the job. We’re really, really close. Let’s win the game right now,” Justice said during Monday’s state COVID-19 briefing.
Continuing the dramatic statewide drop in vaccinations during the month of April, daily vaccination rates continued to plummet in the past 10 days, down from a peak of more than 20,000 daily vaccinations in March.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources dashboard, the highest daily number of vaccinations since April 10 was 4,409 on April 16. The dashboard showed 875 vaccinations on Saturday, and five reported vaccinations on Sunday — although both days’ totals are likely underreported because of data lag.
As of Sunday, West Virginia — initially a national leader in vaccination rates — had dropped to 43rd overall on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s state vaccine administration data tracker.
Justice on Monday continued to downplay politics as a factor in the plunging vaccination rate — numerous surveys show that higher percentages of Republicans and evangelical Christians say they “definitely will not” be vaccinated — while speculating that ultimately, some 250,000 West Virginians will probably adamantly refuse vaccinations.
“I fully expect there will be 250,000 people in West Virginia that will just absolutely turn up their nose at this and say, ‘No, no, no, no,’” he said.
He reiterated Monday that all the players on the Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team he coaches declined to be vaccinated.
“My basketball team, 100% of them, in my absence, turned it down,” Justice said. “I’ve got to do better. You’ve got to do better.”
Justice said that, even excluding those “hardheaded” individuals who refuse to be vaccinated, the state could still reach a vaccination rate in excess of 80%.
According to the DHHR dashboard, 46% of the state’s population age 16 and older has had one dose of vaccine, and 38% of the population is fully vaccinated.
“It’s a little slower, it’s a little tougher, but we’re getting there,” Justice said of the slowdown in vaccinations.
Justice on Monday dismissed the idea of offering incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated, saying, “Should we be paying people to get vaccinated? Really? Should you pay someone in order to try to save their life?”
However, James Hoyer, head of the state Interagency Task Force on Vaccination, said some businesses, in fact, are offering incentives to encourage employees and their family members to get vaccinated, including gift cards and paid days off work.
Hoyer encouraged businesses, churches and civic groups to work with the state to set up vaccination clinics, particularly with more virulent variants of COVID-19 entering the state.
“We don’t want to be the team that ends up on the 5-yard line, short of the end zone,” he said.
Also Monday, Justice announced he will be rescinding the 91 executive orders issued over the course of the pandemic, dating back to March 2020, and replacing them with a single, new executive order, primarily retaining a number of directives relaxing or suspending state regulations.
The new executive order will continue to require the wearing of face masks and social distancing in public places, but will eliminate an order limiting attendance at social gatherings to 100 people, Justice said.