CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is about five percentage points away from meeting its goal of at least partially vaccinating 65% of all eligible residents before a mask mandate drops on June 20.
“We’ve crossed a milestone. ... Now we’re at 60.1% that have received their first shot," Republican Gov. Jim Justice said at a news conference Thursday.
The state's coronavirus vaccination drive has remained sluggish despite incentives for young people and a lottery for all. But officials said they have not returned any doses to the federal government. About 268,000 does are currently unused, according to state data.
Demand for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state has plummeted since a brief national pause on the one-shot vaccine in April. An announcement from the company on Thursday extending the vaccine's expiration date by six weeks was a relief to officials who expected unused doses to become spoiled soon.
“Now we have another month and a half for use of those,” said James Hoyer, who leads the state's coronavirus taskforce. Sending the doses to other states or countries is under consideration, he said.
“We particularly continue to order Pfizer doses because of the 12 years and old” eligibility that the vaccine allows, he added.
West Virginia’s has a vaccine sweepstakes that includes prizes ranging from hunting rifles to $1 million. The first prizes are set to be announced June 20, which also marks West Virginia’s birthday and the end of the mask mandate. The giveaways, which also include Rocky Ridge version Ford F-150 trucks, weekend getaway packages, and college scholarships, will conclude on Aug. 4.
Justice said the state will begin sending out promised $100 gift cards or bonds for residents aged 16 to 35 who got their vaccine. He said they will begin mailing those out on Monday at the latest.