KENOVA, W.Va. – Griffith & Feil Drug has been in business since 1892, a family-owned, small-town pharmacy. This isn't their first pandemic.
More than a century after helping West Virginians confront the Spanish flu in 1918, the drugstore in Kenova, a community of about 3,000 people, is helping the state lead the nation in COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
West Virginia has emerged as an unlikely success in the nation's otherwise chaotic vaccine rollout, largely because of the state's decision to reject a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens and instead enlist mom-and-pop pharmacies to vaccinate residents against the virus that has killed over 395,000 Americans.
More shots have gone into people's arms per capita across West Virginia than in any other state, with at least 7.5% of the population receiving the first of two shots, according to federal data.
West Virginia was the first in the nation to finish offering first doses to all long-term care centers before the end of December, and the state expects to give second doses at those facilities by the end of January.
“Boy, have we noticed that. I think the West Virginia model is really one that we would love for a lot more states to adopt,” said John Beckner, a pharmacist who works at the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Community Pharmacists Association, which advocates for pharmacies across the country.
It's early in the process, but that has not stopped Republican Gov. Jim Justice from proclaiming that the vaccine effort runs counter to preconceived notions about the Mountaineer State.
It turns out that “West Virginia has been the diamond in the rough,” Justice said on CBS' “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Rather than relying on national chains, 250 local pharmacists set up clinics in rural communities. The fact that residents who may be wary of the vaccine seem to trust them makes a difference.
“As my uncle always told me, these people aren't your customers, they're your friends and neighbors,” said Ric Griffith, the pharmacist at Griffith & Feil in Kenova, a town near the Kentucky state line.
Officials also credit a 50-person command center at the state's National Guard headquarters in the capital of Charleston.
Inside a cavernous hall, leaders of the vaccine operation and state health officials sit between plexiglass dividers to oversee shipments of the precious doses to five hubs. From there, deliveries go to drugstores and local health departments.
The federal partnership involving CVS and Walgreens would have allowed Washington officials to dictate the terms of nursing home vaccinations, said Marty Wright, the head of the West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents health care companies.
“If the state would've activated the federal plan, the state would've had zero control over the situation,” Wright said.
Vaccine available for those 70, older
Hoosiers age 70 and older, along with health care workers, long-term care residents and first responders, are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. To date, nearly 297,000 Hoosiers have received their first dose of vaccine, and nearly 61,000 have been fully vaccinated.
The Indiana Department of Health announced 3,228 additional Hoosiers were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sunday. That brings to 590,211 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus.
In Allen County, 123 residents tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total to 31,963 cases and 540 deaths Sunday.
A total of 8,936 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 24 from the previous day. Another 374 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record.
To date, 2,831,352 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 2,819,864 on Saturday. A total of 6,431,185 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26.
– Journal Gazette