While they are quick to acknowledge the Delta variant of COVID-19 as being a legitimate threat and one that merits continued vigilance, health officials believe the greatest source of concern at this juncture in the pandemic is people under the age of 40 — particularly school age children — resisting vaccination.

A recent survey showed that, when they were asked, 90 percent of children who have not yet received even one shot said they had unvaccinated parents.

Health officials claim this reluctance by the parents is carrying over to their children.

“Right now the Delta strand has only shown up in five states with vaccination percentages below 35 percent for adults, those being Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming,” Mingo County Health Department Administrator Keith Blankenship said this week. “So even though it's currently being monitored closely everywhere else, the experts feel the real concern in states with much higher 50 and over vaccination percentages has to do with so many children not being vaccinated.”

Blankenship said the reason the Delta variant is not being dismissed out of hand in all states is because Australia, for example, has sustained a particularly hard hit with the strand that has basically put Sydney, where vaccination rates are reportedly low, on complete lockdown.

Another reason is because of those Israeli citizens having already been fully vaccinated, 50 percent of these have now contracted the Delta variant.

The state of West Virginia, likewise, finds itself in a similar situation. On Tuesday, July 13, Gov. Jim Justice announced that the Delta variant had risen to 15 cases in six counties as opposed to 12 cases confirmed during his press briefing last week.

These variant-positive cases are being discovered even though, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the state has achieved a 58.1 percent first dose rating and 48.2 fully vaccinated among the state’s total population. For the 12-year-old and greater population the vaccination rate is 66.9 percent for first doses and 55.5 percent for those fully vaccinated.

“Basically what all this is saying is there still are a lot of unknowns, and you can’t just simply say, never,” he said.

Blankenship said the arbitrary variables associated with the variant was also the reason the World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a statement urging that, at least in a broader global context, it might again become necessary for people to begin wearing masks.

“Health officials in this country don’t necessarily agree with the WHO on this, at least right now … but the one thing they do all agree on is the weak link, or greatest area of concern, and that's the really low number of children getting vaccinated,” he said.

The concern is so great, Blankenship said, that beginning on Wednesday, July 14, the West Virginia Department of Education launched a campaign aimed at all the state’s high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools that health officials are hoping will help reverse the current trend.

The “I Got Vaxxed Competition,” as it is being called, will award one school on each level having achieved the highest number of eligible vaccination candidates with a $5,000 award that can be used for school activities. The winners of the competition will be announced the week of Oct. 3.

Due to the likelihood of any variant being more easily and quickly spread by student/athletes, Blankenship said the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) is additionally being encouraged by state health officials to begin producing appropriate social media presentations that, ideally, will inspire more kids to get vaccinated.

“You hate to put it this way, but the biggest complaint we got last year from parents was related to sports … either their kids not getting to play or in some instances shutting down the entire program due to having contracted COVID and spreading it to others,” Blankenship said. “As things stand right now, it would seem some parents are not willing to do what it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen again this year.”

In an attempt to do its part in getting more children vaccinated before the new school year begins, Blankenship said the MCHD, in conjunction with the Mingo County Board of Education, will be offering free, complete back-to-school vaccinations at various locations and times—including those for COVID-19—to any student having been given parental consent.

He noted the locations, dates and times are tentative and subject to change, with possibly more locations being added as the new school year approaches.

The vaccination events already scheduled are:

• Burch PK-8 — July 29 — 2 p. m. to 4 p. m.

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