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Health Department working on campaign to encourage vaccinations as demand declines

Stanly County Health Department received no new first doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week due to declining demand among the public to get vaccinated, according to Health Director David Jenkins.

This marks the second week that demand for vaccines has outstripped supply, even as all adults 16 and older are now eligible to get vaccinated. This also marks the first week the county has not received any first doses.

The department has administered fewer than 100 first doses on certain days recently, Jenkins said.

“We knew it was going to happen at some point in time, but it did occur a little bit earlier than we thought,” Jenkins said, noting the decline in vaccine demand has been an issue across the state and even much of the country.

“There’s several other health departments, other medical entities that have declined vaccine just because we have enough supply and not enough demand and we don’t want to have to waste any vaccine,” he said.

Though he is worried that doses are not going into people’s arms as frequently as previous weeks, “we also know it’s a personal decision they have to make about whether they get the vaccine or not.”

The department received 1,170 second doses from Pfizer, the same amount as last week, which will go to people who already received their first shot. Jenkins said the county will only receive second doses next week as well.

He knows of a handful of private practices in Stanly that are administering vaccines, but the main issue they run into is being able to adequately store the vaccine at the proper temperature controls. CVS, Walgreens and Medical Pharmacy are also providing vaccinations.

Jenkins is not sure what is causing the recent decline in people wanting to get vaccinated but said his department is working on a campaign to encourage more people to get their shot. The department is working with Uwharrie Marketing Association to spread the word about the importance of getting vaccinated. They plan on utilizing social media and traditional outlets — radio and newspapers — along with community leaders to reach as many people as possible.

“People know and trust people that are in their community so we’re looking for local faces of our diverse populations to be good representatives of why you should get vaccinated,” said Wendy Growcock, public health specialist with the health department. “We’re asking them what is your why, why is this important to you?”

The health department is also reaching out to local businesses to gauge the interest in bringing the vaccine to their establishments to administer to employees.

“That’s another way that we can work with our community to get folks vaccinated,” Jenkins said.

With only 18.8 percent of residents fully vaccinated, according to data from the N.C. Health and Human Services Department, Stanly County is still not even close to achieving so-called herd immunity, when enough people in a community become immune to a disease that its continued spread is unlikely. Though estimates of what it takes to reach herd immunity for COVID vary, most experts put the figure at between 70 percent to 90 percent of the population.

Stanly trails each of its four peer counties–Granville, Haywood, Lee and Pender–by several percentage points when it comes to vaccinations. The closest to Stanly is Pender with 22.7 percent of its residents fully vaccinated.

Though immunity could be reached if enough people recover from the virus, Jenkins said getting vaccinated is still the best option.

“Ideally, getting a vaccine is a lot safer option than actually coming down with the virus.”

While more than half of all residents 65 and older — who account for 20 percent of the total population — have been fully vaccinated in Stanly County, only around 12 percent of people 25 to 49 are vaccinated.

The decline for vaccines comes even as Gov. Roy Cooper announced this week that, assuming COVID trends continue to remain stable, NC will lift almost all restrictions on June 1. Only the mask mandate will stay in place.

Restrictions limiting capacity at indoor restaurants, bars and concert venues are among those that will be lifted, as are limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Cooper said the goal is to get to two-thirds of people fully vaccinated and when that happens, the mask mandate could possibly be fully lifted.

With 24 new cases reported Thursday, there have been a total of almost 7,600 cumulative cases since last spring, according to data from the health department. About 12 percent of the total cases, 943, have come from long-term care facilities.

Eleven people are currently hospitalized as of Thursday while 138 people have died from the virus. The overwhelming majority of deaths have occurred in Albemarle, which has accounted for 94, according to NCDHHS data.

Stanly is in the state’s “significant community spread” zone for COVID-19, along with most other counties in the region.

The county’s rolling seven-day average positivity rate, as of Thursday, is 9 percent, per state data, higher than the state’s overall rate of 4.9 percent.

Statewide, there have been more than 12 million tests conducted resulting in at least 954,765 cases. A total of 1,149 people were reported hospitalized as of Wednesday, and 12,505 people have died.

There have been roughly 32 million cases in the United States with 570,000 Americans having died.

Anyone interested in getting vaccinated should call the department’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at 980-323-0205. The hotline is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during normal business days.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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