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Health & Science

Locals and State "Run Harder To Catch Up" Jefferson County's Vaccine Rollout

Duke Pierson.jpg
Shepherd Snyder/ WVPB
Shepherd Snyder/ WVPB
Duke Pierson is the mayor of Ranson, a town in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

West Virginia is proud of its nationally recognized vaccine rollout. But data show that effort has not been consistent across the state. Realizing the disparity, state officials responded by bumping up underserved counties’ vaccine allotments, sometimes six-fold. Now smaller health departments are responding to a sudden influx in doses.

West Virginia's acclaimed vaccine rollout is a team effort, with local health departments, pharmacies, and the National Guard pitching in.

Shepherd Snyder/ WVPB
Gary Truitt, 73, and Teresa Truitt, 65, got their COVID-19 vaccine doses at the Ranson Civic Center in March.

At a vaccine clinic in Jefferson County last Wednesday, teamwork was just as important. Small town police and public works staff directed traffic to the Ranson Civic Center. The health department, WVU Medicine, and a team of volunteers took care of the rest.

Dave Fogelsong was one of more than a hundred volunteers who have offered their time to the local effort.

“I’m kind of helping guide folks into the building and make sure that they have a wheelchair if they need it and that they’re safely out of the traffic lanes,” he said. “You know everyone that comes through is just grateful to be here.”

In total, 1800 people got either their first or second dose. It was split between two days, Wednesday and Thursday.

Staff Sergeant David Orr, 25, travels to different communities throughout West Virginia to assist smaller health departments distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
Shepherd Snyder/ WVPB
Staff Sergeant David Orr, 25, travels throughout West Virginia to help smaller health departments distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

This effort was much larger than any other vaccine clinic the county has had before. The local health department was used to giving out 300 doses in a week. Suddenly, it got six times that amount.

That made it an exciting and nerve racking day for Dr. Terrence Reidy. He’s the health officer for Jefferson County’s health department.

"There is a little bit of anxiety or butterflies, making sure everything goes alright, because this is so important that it goes well," he said.

The state bumped up Jefferson County’s vaccine allotment suddenly, because it realized the area had fallen behind. State data shows someone in Jefferson County is half as likely to have been vaccinated than those throughout the state. Gov. Jim Justice promised to fix that.

And Reidy’s team is up for the challenge.

“Now we got to run harder to catch up,” he said.

ranson clinic.jpg
Shepherd Snyder/ WVPB
Jefferson County's health department gave out 1800 COVID-19 vaccine doses in two days in March.

Reidy can’t operate these clinics all on his own. He doesn’t have enough staff. He’s hired some part-time nurses, but he needs more public funding to not go into the red.

Despite this, he does have help from his community.

Ranson Mayor Duke Pierson offered up the civic center in his town to host the clinics. He asked mayors of Charles Town, Shepherdstown, and Harper’s Ferry to help out too. He was willing to lend his police officers to the effort, if the other mayors did the same.

“I still had to make sure the public safety on the streets was being taken care of by my policemen. I couldn’t afford to have my policemen tied up here all day everyday," he said.

Everyone pitched in. So did the National Guard and WVU Medicine.

Shepherd Snyder/ WVPB
Veronica Clefner, 68, got her COVID-19 vaccine dose at the Ranson Civic Center in March.

“I give credit to everybody involved. So hopefully we’ll smooth out some of the rough edges and move forward,” Pierson said.

Veronica Clefner, 68, got her shot with no hassle. From her perspective, the whole thing went smoothly, despite the past.

When Clefner heard her area went without for so long, it upset her. But she says in just the past week, she saw the tide shifting.

“We got back on the right track," she said.

The Jefferson County Health Department expects to vaccinate roughly as many people this week.

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