As millions of students continue to return to school over the coming weeks, one state's governor is stepping up the call for vaccinations among his constituents.
"You have to get vaccinated," West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said during a regular COVID-19 briefing on Friday. "The more that are vaccinated, the less that will die. That is absolutely the way it is."
The latest CDC data available lists West Virginia as having fully vaccinated 39.6% of the population with 47% receiving at least one dose. The West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (HHS) website, however, lists West Virginia as having fully vaccinated 50.8% of the population with 62.5% receiving at least one dose. (The reason for the discrepancy is unclear.)
Nationwide, the vaccination rate is 61.2% for those ages 12 and up (compared to 58.5% in West Virginia, according to the state's HHS).
Cases in the state are nearing pandemic highs and rising amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which seems to be infecting unvaccinated Americans — including children under 12 — at higher rates as the new school year begins.
“Nationally, we have seen that the overwhelming majority of people hospitalized with COVID are not vaccinated,” Justice said. “West Virginia is experiencing the exact same thing.”
He added that unvaccinated individuals made up an overwhelming majority of the current COVID-related hospitalizations in the state. For example, at Thomas Health hospitals, unvaccinated individuals represent over 90% of the patients and 100% of those in the ICU.
Only children ages 12 and up are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. That still leaves millions of children vulnerable to the virus.
And while the mortality rate for COVID-19 in children is extremely low, that’s not what physicians are most concerned about.
“It’s also about hospitalizations, children being pulled away from school because they get COVID,” Dr. Mona Amin, a board-certified physician, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “They get hospitalized, hospital bills, everything that comes with being hospitalized as a child that we’re trying to avoid. We know that we’re not able to completely avoid this. We know this with the flu. We know this with [Respiratory Syncytial Virus].”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 180,000 COVID-19 cases in children were reported during the week ending Aug. 19, and children represented about 22% of total new confirmed cases.
Gov. Justice stated that he's ready to "move very quickly" to push vaccinations for children under 12, "if and when" the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends it.
"I'm totally committed to doing a back-to-school vaccination for those 12 and older," he said.
A CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published on Friday noted a COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak in an elementary school in Marin County, California in late May to early June, after an unvaccinated infected teacher continued teaching in person for two days before getting tested.
The teacher had reported becoming symptomatic on May 19 but only got a test on May 21. Between then, the CDC said "the teacher read aloud unmasked to the class despite school requirements to mask while indoors."
From there, 27 cases emerged — including that of the teacher. 22 of the students who got COVID were ineligible for the vaccine because of their age. 81% of them reported symptoms, the most common being fever, cough, headache, and sore throat.
As a way to encourage eligible students to get vaccinated, the West Virginia Department of Education launched its #IGotVaxxedWV campaign, which is now branded as #IGotVaxxed To Get Back, as a nod to the end goal of returning back to normal.
Part of the campaign includes schools competing for the largest percentage of vaccinated staff and students. A total of four elementary high schools, four middle schools, and four high schools will each receive $50,000 to use towards school activities.
"We've done all kinds of things ... everything we can possibly do to market, to be able to get people to the finish line and get them vaccinated," Justice said. "Everything points towards one thing, and that is you have to get vaccinated."
Adriana Belmonte contributed to this story.
Update: This post has been updated to note the discrepancy between CDC and West Virginia vaccination data.
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.