CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard and a task force for COVID-19 vaccines shared best vaccination practices in a virtual workshop with Peruvian officials on March 2.
More than 40 government and military officials from Peru, including Prime Minister Violeta Bermudez; Dr. Óscar Ugarte and Percy Luis Minaya, minister and vice-minister of health; and Lt. Gen. Juan Cevallos, Army Health Directorate commanding general, attended the workshop hosted by Denison "Denny" Offutt, chargé d'affaires for the U.S. Embassy Lima.
West Virginia has been recognized as a leader in COVID-19 vaccine distribution since vaccines were made available in the United States in December. Building on the relationship between West Virginia and Peru through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, Peru reached out for help as the country begins vaccinating its population.
"Being raised in West Virginia, I feel very proud," Offutt said. "Thanks to the task force for sharing their challenges and lessons learned because the pandemic does not respect borders. Peru, we continue to support you in your vaccination process."
Topics covered during the workshop included the organization of West Virginia's Joint Interagency Task Force; planning considerations for vaccinating the elderly, displaced, homebound and indigenous people; cold chain storage and logistics operations; and administrative best practices.
West Virginia representatives at the virtual meeting included Brig. Gen. William "Bill" Crane, WVNG adjutant-general; Command Sgt. Maj. Dusty Jones, WVNG senior enlisted leader; Lt. Col. Walter Hatfield, director of joint operations; Lt. Col. William Persinger, COVID-19 JIATF logistics, and Capt. Joseph Reppert, State Partnership Program coordinator.
"We know that collectively, our actions and best practices may ultimately help save lives in Peru," Crane said. "The West Virginia National Guard has been a cornerstone to the success we have had in West Virginia in our vaccination efforts, and it's my hope that our Peruvian partners can use the knowledge shared through this workshop to build a similarly successful vaccination program for the people of Peru."
Ugarte expressed interest in West Virginia's communication methods for the COVID-19 vaccine and highlighted the role vaccines have played historically in Peru.
West Virginia's JIATF, which includes a separate task force of more than 550 National Guard members, was established on Nov. 30 to prepare for the arrival of vaccines. The JIATF for COVID-19 Vaccines includes representatives from across West Virginia in health care, hospital, local health, and primary care associations, the board of pharmacy, WVNG, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Since December, West Virginia has fully vaccinated nearly 200,000 of the almost 1.8 million residents in the state and more than 303,000 have had at least one dose of the vaccines.
"This engagement shows the true benefit of the SPP program, allowing life-saving knowledge and experiences to flow through open dialogue between Peru and West Virginia," Jones said. "Our years of existing partnership has established levels of trust and respect that are invaluable in the middle of a crisis such as the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic."
West Virginia and Peru have a more than 20-year history of collaboration through the SPP. Each year, Peru and West Virginia hold multiple engagements to support defense security goals and facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.