West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice didn't mince words Tuesday in urging his constituents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
During a televised press conference, Justice, a Republican, told West Virginians who are choosing not to get vaccinated that they "part of the problem," adding that their actions could cause more people in the state to die of the virus.
"If you're not vaccinated, you're part of the problem rather than part of the solution. You know, that's all there is to it," Justice said. "If we had you vaccinated, less people would die. That's all there is to it."
West Virginia is among a handful of states that are lagging behind the national average when it comes to vaccine distribution. Just 47% of West Virginians are fully vaccinated, compared with 55% of the entire country.
According to Bloomberg, West Virginia ranks 45th out of 51 U.S. states (plus D.C.) for the number of vaccines distributed per capita.
Young people are among the groups holding the state back from reaching herd immunity. Just54% of West Virginians above 12 have been vaccinated, compared with 77% of people older than 65.
Justice has tried to incentivize young people to get vaccinated with $100 saving bonds and cash lotteries. However, West Virginia continues to lag behind other states when it comes to vaccine distribution.
"When it really boils right down to it, they're in a lottery to themselves," Justice told ABC News in an interview that aired Sunday. "We have a lottery, you know, that basically says, 'if you're vaccinated, we're going to give you stuff.' Well, you've got another lottery going on, and it's the death lottery."
Across the country, vaccine distribution has slowed in recent months. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. has distributed an average of 800,000 vaccine doses a day in the past week, down from a peak of 3.3 million a day in April.
Officials fear that places like West Virginia — where large swaths of people remain unvaccinated — could soon be the site of new COVID-19 outbreaks as the dangerous delta variant quickly spreads around the world.