Washington — As states work to accelerate the pace of administering COVID-19 vaccines and improve the rocky rollout of the shots, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice praised his state for its successful vaccine distribution, calling it the "diamond in the rough."
"Right now, we're at 98.1%, as far as vaccines in people's arms or names tied to it, you know, that are going to be put into people's arms immediately," Justice, a Republican, told "Face the Nation" in an interview Sunday. "We're saving all kinds of lives. We're putting our kids back in school. West Virginia has been the diamond in the rough that a lot of people have missed."
Since coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna were first shipped out to states in December, West Virginia has emerged as a leader in vaccine distribution. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 205,000 doses of the shots have been distributed and more than 134,000 doses have been administered in the state.
Justice said West Virginia's success is because "we are practical thinking people with a lot of really smart people here getting it done."
"A lot of governors sat on their hands trying to come up with a system or a formula of what they were going to do. We didn't sit on our hands. I mean, we acted," he said. "We brought our local pharmacies in. We brought our local, you know, health departments in. We brought our National Guard in, and we started putting shots in people's arms, because this thing is all about age, age, age."
Unlike other states, West Virginia declined to participate in a federal program through which CVS and Walgreens administered vaccines to residents and staff of long-term care facilities and instead leaned on local pharmacies to deliver the shots. It then became the first state in the nation to finish offering the vaccines to all nursing home facilities, doing so before the end of 2020.
Justice said he decided to reject the federal partnership program because "there are so many people that depend on their local health departments, their local pharmacies."
"If what we're going to do is create a bureaucracy with federal government guidelines and everything, when we know this is about age, age and age, we've got to get shots in people's arms, and every day we put a shot in somebody's arm we're saving a life," he said.
Nationwide, 31.1 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been distributed and 12.2 million doses administered. More than 10.5 million people have received at least one dose of the shots, according to the CDC.