CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is prepared to begin administering coronavirus vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds now that U.S. regulators have expanded use of Pfizer’s shot to them.

James Hoyer, a retired major general with the National Guard who is leading the state’s interagency coronavirus task force, said Monday morning the state was “ready to go” once approval was given for those as young as 12.

Later Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared the Pfizer vaccine safe and offers strong protection for younger teens. Shots could begin as soon as a federal advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds, expected Wednesday.

Gov. Jim Justice estimated there are 78,000 children ages 12 to 15 in West Virginia.

He called on adults to "help us get those kids vaccinated. Those kids need protected. You need protected. And with all that being said, kids from the side effects that they could possibly get and everything from this (virus), in every way need vaccinated.”

In addition to a previously announced plan to offer $100 savings bonds to young people who get a shot, Justice said the state also is working on offering gift cards as an alternative.

“We're going to give people the flexibility to go two different ways,” he said.

West Virginia has given at least one dose to nearly 55% of its eligible population over the age of 16. More than 45% of state residents have received at least one dose and about 38% are fully vaccinated, state data show. Eighty percent of residents ages 65 and over have received at least one dose.

Justice announced plans last week to lift the statewide mask mandate on June 20 after officials projected more than two-thirds of eligible residents will be vaccinated by then.

The number of active virus cases in the state on Sunday dipped below 7,000 for the first time in two weeks. Active cases peaked at more than 29,000 in early January, fell under 5,200 in early March and climbed to near 7,500 in early April.


Follow AP's coverage of the pandemic at