One year ago, we wrote to you when the first COVID-19 vaccine was on its way to our Mountain State. The authorization of a safe and effective vaccine was a milestone time in our careers, bringing hope and relief during this life-changing pandemic.
A year later, we have seen hundreds of thousands of West Virginians choose COVID-19 vaccination, alongside millions across the United States and billions around the world. For more than a year, COVID19 vaccines have had the most rigorous safety monitoring of any vaccines in U.S. history. The scientific and medical evidence continues to reinforce that vaccination is safe, and it is highly effective at reducing risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
We trust COVID-19 vaccines because we have followed the science, and we see firsthand each day the role vaccination plays in protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our patients. Without a doubt, countless lives have been saved through COVID-19 vaccination. This is why we have chosen to get the vaccine and why we recommend it to our patients.
We have made strides toward improving public health in the face of an ever-changing pandemic. We still have a pressing concern, though: West Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the lowest in the nation, increasing our hospitalization rates from COVID-19.
When vaccination rates in a community are low, the virus that causes COVID-19 can more easily spread and change into new strains—these are the “variants” you may be hearing about, such as Delta or Omicron. New variants could be more contagious, cause more severe illness, or could even develop in ways that allow it to overcome the vaccines that are working so strongly for us now. The spread of variants has contributed to recent increases in hospitalizations and deaths in West Virginia.
We know that the overwhelming majority of people who are now hospitalized or pass away from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Although no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing disease or complications from disease, the COVID-19 vaccines are our strongest tool to protect against severe illness and death.
If you have not yet chosen vaccination, please get vaccinated. West Virginians 5 years of age and older can now get protected against COVID-19. And if you were vaccinated more than 6 months ago with Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, or more than 2 months ago with a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, please get a booster shot. Boosters are an important step to maintain maximum protection against the virus and its variants.
Vaccines are readily available at multiple locations across all 55 counties. You can learn more and find a location near you at vaccinate.wv.gov.
One year ago, we wrote to you about how we wept with the families we cared for and served, watching them struggle with severe illness and death from COVID-19 complications. Many who 2 survived continue to have symptoms weeks and months later—what you may have heard referred to as “long COVID.” The images and memories of these West Virginians – some of whom are our neighbors, colleagues, patients, or loved ones – remain and will stay with us for our lifetimes.
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.