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Why Older West Virginians are Being Targeted by Vaccines

A WVU Medicine pharmacy technician holds a vial of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine.

The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading throughout the United States and West Virginia at rates higher than we have seen in the pandemic. There are more Americans and West Virginians hospitalized than we have seen thus far.

With that said, one would expect that the light at the end of the tunnel would be fading. But, that is not true.

The light at the end of the tunnel is shining more brightly today than in the previous 10 months.

Why? Because we have proven solutions available to stop the spread of the virus and to aid in the ability to save lives.

How is this so? We know in West Virginia that the oldest residents are the ones most likely to die from COVID-19.

In fact, our average age of West Virginians dying of COVID-19 is 77. Deaths from COVID-19 break down by age as follows:

  • >70 years old account for 77.5% of deaths.
  • 60-70 years old account for 14.25% of deaths.
  • 50-60 years old account for 5% of deaths.

Thus, protecting folks in West Virginia that are older than 60 would protect 92% of West Virginians from dying. If we move that to greater than age 50, we would reduce deaths by 97%.

Similarly, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support our findings. In comparing the following age groups of Americans to the healthiest adult age group of 18-29, we find the following for people infected with COVID-19:

  • Age 50-64 have a four times risk of hospitalization and a 30 times risk of death.
  • Age 65-74 have a five times risk of hospitalization and a 90 times risk of death.
  • Age 75-84 have an eight times risk of hospitalization and a 220 times risk of death.
  • Age 85 and older have a 13 times risk of hospitalization and a 630 times risk of death.

This is why the United Kingdom chose to distribute their COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine to the oldest members of their population - starting with those aged older than 90 and then moving to those greater than age 80, then greater than age 70, etc.

In addition, this is also the reason the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), has recommended that nursing home patients and staff be vaccinated in the highest priority category. This makes sense for West Virginia, as we find almost 50% of our deaths occur in nursing homes.

We now have other effective approaches to save lives during this period as the vaccine is rolling out. New drugs like those produced by Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals and Regeneron are available – immune antibodies that bind to the spike proteins on COVID-19 (this is where COVID-19 binds to cells that allow infection into our bodies). This is the life-saving treatment President Donald Trump received when he became ill.

We now know that using these treatments early after testing COVID-19 positive for those who are aged 65 and older and/or who have pre-existing health conditions can reduce the risk of hospitalization.

But, as we have said for months, the most important intervention we have is to wear our masks and stay physically distant from those you don’t live with.

Your behavior is our best weapon to neutralize the virus during this critical period for our state, country and world.

Most cases are being spread in communities, where people take their masks off as extended family and friends get together to drink, eat or talk. We have found virus spread in ski lift lines between people, too.

So, West Virginia we are seeing the light shining more brightly at the end of the tunnel. For many others, you are that light they seek.

We know service, love for community and family and altruism for others is that light.

Keep it up. We need each of you.

Shine brightly, West Virginia.

Almost Heaven.