West Virginia COVID-19 czar encourages vaccines amid omicron variant concerns

With the omicron variant of COVID-19 beginning to spread globally, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh is urging people to get vaccinated and receive booster shots.

“The omicron variant is a very concerning variant because it has a really large number of mutations,” Marsh said in a statement. “Whether this variant turns out to be one that outcompetes the delta variant and becomes the most common variant in the United States, or in West Virginia, we don’t know yet. But what we do know is that COVID remains very active and it is ultimately important for us to make sure that we are vaccinating all of our population fully and boosting the part of our population that is eligible.”

Omicron, which developed in the southern part of Africa and has begun to spread into other countries, is now labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. President Joe Biden has also imposed travel restrictions on the countries in which the variant likely originated. The United States detected its first omicron case on Wednesday.

Information surrounding the omicron variant is still developing, but early reports suggest that it spreads faster than the original strain of COVID-19 and the delta variant, but produces less severe and generally mild symptoms. Health officials do not know what effect the current vaccines have on the variant, but vaccine manufacturers are developing vaccines and booster shots specifically focused on preventing people from catching the variant.

Marsh said West Virginia hospitals are half full from existing COVID-19 cases and encouraged residents, especially those who are aged 50 and older, to “protect ourselves, protect our hospitals and protect everybody in West Virginia” by getting the COVID-19 vaccine or getting a booster shot.

According to the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force on COVID-19, the state has administered 222,000 booster shots, but that there is a substantial drop off between the population that received at least one dose compared to the number of people who received a booster shot.

To date, West Virginia has one of the lowest vaccination rates against COVID-19. According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, about 62.4% of eligible West Virginians have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 52.5% are fully vaccinated. Nearly 69% of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 58.5% are fully vaccinated. Of adults aged 50 or older, about 81% have received at least one dose and about 71% are fully vaccinated.

Death or serious illness are rare for younger people, but the risks increase if a person has a compromised immune system or other health condition. The risk also increases as a person gets older.

This article was originally posted on West Virginia COVID-19 czar encourages vaccines amid omicron variant concerns