Every one of us is responsible for doing what we can to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Several critical strategies reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19, as well as its variants. These include wearing masks, social distancing, and – most recently and notably – getting vaccinated against the infection.
Despite clear evidence supporting the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, the uptake has varied across the state and within various populations. There are several factors impacting vaccination rates, including accessibility and conspiracy theories. Outlining and understanding these sociocultural gaps is just one aspect of protecting West Virginians. Politicians, decision-makers, and community members must work together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and prevent future outbreaks.
Nearly 60 percent of West Virginia’s eligible population (most individuals 12 years of age or older) are fully vaccinated as of September 8, 2021. Yet, the state lags behind much of the rest of the nation. This reality is concerning to experts as transmission rates continue to increase across the state and outpace the rest of the nation. Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are higher than ever. Currently, about 18 percent of total COVID-19 tests in the state return positive, culminating in over 22,000 active cases.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), about 59 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, with an additional 14 percent being partially vaccinated (two of the three available vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses for full vaccine efficacy). However, herd immunity – the state when a given population reaches levels of vaccination needed to slow or halt virus transmission – is achieved at around at least 70 percent. And mutations of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, makes reaching that figure increasingly complicated. It is important to note that children under 12, some immunocompromised individuals, and those with severe allergic reactions currently cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine, making herd immunity their only way of being protected. These considerations make it even more imperative that eligible folks do their part in preserving their health, which directly impacts public health outcomes.
Vaccination rates vary significantly by demographic in West Virginia, making some populations more susceptible to illnesses, complications, and deaths related to COVID-19 and its variants. While much of the blame on these discrepancies has focused on vaccine hesitancy, researchers have found that accessibility remains the primary driver suppressing vaccination rates nationally – especially for communities of color and rural populations. Access to reliable transportation, internet, and proof of eligibility, as well as flexibility within one’s schedule, represent several barriers that diminish access to the COVID-19 vaccine and health care more broadly.
Several counties, including Mingo, Calhoun, and Clay counties, have low vaccination rates relative to the rest of the state, averaging fewer than 300 doses per 1,000 residents. Meanwhile, Kanawha, Ohio, and Hancock counties have rates nearly double that of the aforementioned counties, averaging roughly 530 doses per 1,000 residents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found significant disparities between urban and rural vaccination rates nationally, which may offer notable, if not limited, insight into those disparities observed in West Virginia.
|Per 1,000 full vaccination rate
Alt-text: Map and table of West Virginia showing full vaccination rates by county, where several counties have fewer than 380 fully vaccinated individuals per 1,000.
The state is also experiencing a racial vaccination gap that reflects national trends. Black West Virginians comprise about five percent of the state population, but fewer than three percent of the fully vaccinated. The state has organized a task force that includes health care experts, lawmakers and state officials, and community leaders to help mitigate the racial vaccination gap. The state also seeks to increase the number of Hispanic/Latino West Virginians who are vaccinated.
Nationally, the Medicaid population has also received fewer vaccinations than the general population. And the same is true in West Virginia, where the fully vaccinated Medicaid population lags behind the fully vaccinated general population by nearly 25 percentage points. Researchers find that the previously mentioned factors around systemic inaccessibility to vaccines are particularly relevant to those in West Virginia’s Medicaid program, compounding with socioeconomic factors to make this population one of the most vulnerable in the state.
Without swift, meaningful action that is oriented around relevant, accessible outreach, West Virginia will continue to see elevated COVID-19 outbreaks across the state. Decisionmakers must use data to create robust policies that respond to the needs of their constituents. Slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19 requires all of us to do our part.
Ready to get vaccinated? Click here to learn more and schedule your appointment. You can also call 1-833-734-0965. The info line is open Monday-Friday from 8 am to 6 pm, and Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm. Thank you for doing your part in keeping West Virginia healthy and safe!