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CHARLESTON (AP) — The West Virginia Department of Education has a new program to encourage students, teachers and staff to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The "I Got Vaxxed Competition" will award $5,000 each to a high school, a middle school and an elementary school for having the highest percentage of eligible people vaccinated, the department said in a news release Monday. The winners will be announced the week of Oct. 3.

School participation is voluntary.

"We know that students and staff lost so much more than instructional days during the pandemic, and this is just a way to try and restore some normalcy and recognize the importance of vaccinations," state Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch said. "Children need the benefits of a consistent school year to regain some of those lost experiences which, in turn, support their social-emotional needs."

Students ages 12 and older and all teachers and staff are eligible for the vaccine.

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