West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday he will ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for permission to offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines to residents 50 and older as well as to essential workers.
At a news conference, Justice pointed to Israel, which last month became one of the first countries to approve a fourth vaccine dose for people most vulnerable to COVID-19 as it braced for a wave of infections fueled by the omicron variant.
"We've got to do something," Justice said. "Either we sit back and just let our people die and we sit back and let our hospitals be overrun, or we try. If the CDC comes back and says no we can't do this now, and then there's enough governors that go together, we'll sure go with them. And then we may get across the finish line that way."
Justice, a Republican, would be among the first state leaders to ask the CDC for a fourth COVID-19 shot. About half of West Virginia's population is fully vaccinated.
"We have not seen the brunt of what omicron will do," said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state's coronavirus expert. "The potency of those vaccines are wearing off. We can't afford to have our most vulnerable get sick from COVID-19.
"This is a critical time for us. We hope we can get a rapid decision."
West Virginia has the nation's third-oldest population with nearly 20% of its 1.79 million residents over age 65. The state also eclipses most others in the percentage of people affected by diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Justice's request comes as West Virginia set a pandemic record for the number of daily positive coronavirus cases.
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The 3,345 confirmed cases reported Thursday were 29% higher than the previous mark of 2,585 cases set last Friday. Daily positive records have been broken four times in the past week, including on three consecutive days last week, according to the Department of HHS' virus dashboard.
The number of people hospitalized from the virus is creeping up, too. There were 758 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, up from 557 on Christmas, health officials said. The record is 1,012 set on Sept. 24.
The concern about hospitalizations are facility staffing numbers, not available beds, said James Hoyer, who leads the state's coronavirus task force. About 1,700 nurses declined to renew their state licenses in 2020.
Justice has said 68% of those who left the field cited being "just plain tired" and "pushed to the very limit" from the strains of the pandemic.
The state has adjusted the number of active cases based on CDC guidelines that now reflect an active status length of five days instead of 10 days. On Wednesday, the active case total was nearly 12,000, revised downward from nearly 18,900 on Tuesday.
Nearly 5,400 people have died in West Virginia since the pandemic started in March 2020.