CHARLESTON — Marking the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccine’s availability in West Virginia, top health experts across the state are reaching out through an open letter to urge West Virginians to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus that causes COVID-19.
The first COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the FDA in December 2020. On this anniversary of COVID-19 vaccine availability, top health experts and medical associations across West Virginia are looking back and reflecting on progress toward ending the pandemic.
Leaders across medical and public health professional groups in West Virginia have tracked the scientific data and federal recommendations for COVID-19 vaccination for more than a year. Since 2020, vaccine availability has grown substantially, from first being available in limited supply to now being available for everyone ages 5 and older. COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, necessary to maintain immunity, are also widely available.
During the past year, hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have chosen COVID-19 vaccination, alongside millions of people across the United States.
“With the strongest safety monitoring of any vaccine in U.S. history and a year of evidence and experience, we remain confident in the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination,” President of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Lisa M. Costello, MD, MPH, said.
The health leaders who penned the letter also note a troubling challenge. Low overall vaccination rates across West Virginia, coupled with the emergence of COVID-19 virus variants, are increasing hospitalization rates and deaths and contributing to overwhelmed health systems.
“Vaccination is our strongest tool to protect ourselves, our communities, and our health systems,” Costello explained. “With this letter, we hope to remind West Virginians that the pandemic continues to hold serious implications for all of our lives, and the best way to reduce the consequences of COVID-19 is through everyone choosing vaccination,” Costello continued.
The letter, signed by more than 30 West Virginia healthcare and public health leaders and organizations, explains, “It is devastating to see people suffer from what is now a vaccine-preventable illness. Yet just as we were a year ago, we remain hopeful. We know now more than ever that the COVID-19 vaccine is our key to protect ourselves and end this pandemic—only if we all choose it. West Virginians, protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Please get vaccinated and boosted.”