(WTRF) – Throughout the COVID pandemic and the release of vaccinations, the United States has seen its share of data and studies. Some of which noted that vaccination rates among minorities, specifically African Americans, are lower. 

When 7News asked one of West Virginia’s top health officials about it, it turned out that there’s another segment of the state’s population that worries him more. 

We certainly aspire to do even better than we’re doing for all of our you know West Virginia residents.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

West Virginia’s Coronavirus Czar, Dr. Clay Marsh, said it doesn’t matter which demographic, the state would like to see more of its residents head to vaccination clinics. 

53% of West Virginia’s overall population is vaccinated, but only 39% of those eligible received their booster doses.

In terms of the minority population, the vaccination rates aren’t too much of a concern. 

We know that about 3.6% of our population that’s been vaccinated is African American and that compares favorably with the relative demographics of the state of West Virginia.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

However, that doesn’t mean that Dr. Marsh isn’t encouraging that demographic to continue to get vaccinated.

We know that there are a number of people who are highly vulnerable who are African American, who are over 65 with chronic medical problems; or who are younger African American residents of West Virginia who certainly would be protected in a much more measurable way with having both doses of the vaccine.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

What worries Dr. Marsh more is the children. 

When we look at our worst vaccinated group it is our five to 12-year-olds and we know under five we don’t currently have vaccines that are available.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

Dr. Marsh told 7News that the Omicron variant has a much higher impact on the younger population. Across the country, more children are hospitalized than ever before, which is only part of a larger problem that’s plaguing hospitals. 

Our peak, our all-time high is 1,012 and we almost certainly will get or exceed that in the upcoming weeks.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

Dr. Marsh is referencing the peak of hospitalizations. 

As of Friday in West Virginia, 980 people are hospitalized. 17 of them are children. 

If the hospital system gets overrun with Coronavirus patients there’s a ripple effect. 

If that starts to fail, not only will we see people have bad outcomes from COVID, we’ll also see more deaths from heart attacks and cancer and strokes and car accidents and so we are really at a critical moment for the state.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

That’s why health officials are really encouraging safety right now and watching anxiously in hopes of numbers coming down. 

That’s what we can prevent if people really do pay attention, get vaccinated, get boosted, be careful just for a little bit of time; for another six to eight weeks we should be, I hope, finished with the brunt, with this surge in West Virginia.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

As for why some West Virginians continue to be hesitant about the vaccines, Dr. Marsh said he doesn’t really know. He said the population really is segmented into three groups. One being those who readily made appointments for their doses.

There’s certainly a group of people that for a variety of reasons just don’t believe in the benefit of the vaccinations for COVID-19 and that group may be 15 to 20% of our population. Then there’s a larger group that either are just not clear or it’s inconvenient or they just haven’t had the time or taken the time.

Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar

Dr. Marsh also encouraged West Virginians to consider wearing N-95 masks. He said they are more effective with the Omicron variant.

However, if all you have is a cloth mask, he said try and double up. Dr. Marsh also advises that some type of face covering is better than none at all.