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Boosters Offered For West Virginia's Nursing Home Residents

Chuck Frostick

COVID-19 booster shots are now widely available to nursing home residents across the state who received the Pfizer vaccine.

State officials say they are directing third doses to West Virginia's most vulnerable residents.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer, who leads the state’s vaccine distribution, said all eligible nursing home residents will have a chance to get a booster by the end of next week. Just last week, federal health agencies authorized boosters for a wider group of people.

Those who received the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccines will have to wait for more federal guidance.

“No one's been authorized to do a mixing,” said Marty Wright, CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents 120 long-term care facilities that serve about 14,000 residents.

State officials say 87 percent of all nursing home residents are vaccinated.

Older people and those with other health concerns are eligible and encouraged to get the extra shot, since they make up most hospitalized breakthrough cases.

“Our breakthrough cases at 20 percent in the hospitals are primarily older, more vulnerable citizens with health issues,” Hoyer said.

At one point last month, more than 50 percent of West Virginia's breakthrough cases were among nursing home residents.

Despite that, nursing home leaders say the vaccines are working for their residents.

“When we do facility-wide testing, we're discovering a lot of these asymptomatic new positive individuals,” said Wright.

While a majority of long-term care facilities have at least one staff member or resident with COVID-19 right now, Wright says the virus isn’t ravaging these homes as it did before.

“We're seeing very low, minimal hospitalization and very little severe complications, a much different scenario than what we saw in the winter before we had the vaccine available,” Wright said.

The Biden administration said it would issue a rule requiring nursing home workers to get the vaccine. State officials say 70 percent of nursing home staff in West Virginia have been vaccinated.

Wright said that number continues to increase, but depending on what the federal rule looks like, it could impact staffing.

“We definitely are experiencing staffing shortages and challenges, much like our hospitals are. Depending on what comes next with the federal rule, that easily could have an impact on it as well,” Wright said.

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