RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Thousands of North Carolinians are receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine every day. The numbers of cases of the mutated variant strains of the virus are growing, too.

Experts consider it a race between vaccines and variants — and they say how we act will determine which side wins.

“I actually think it’s a great analogy,” said Dr. Lesley Curtis of the Duke University School of Medicine. “We’re a competitive kind of people, especially those of us in North Carolina (during) basketball season. So we’re a competitive bunch. And I think it’s it’s really appropriate to think of it, as how quickly can we get people vaccinated, so that we win, and the variants don’t?”

The pace of vaccinations has continued to pick up in North Carolina and across the country, with the state Department of Health and Human Services saying more than a quarter of all adults in the state are now fully vaccinated and nearly 40 percent have had at least the first shot of one of the two-dose regimens.

Those numbers are sure to rise even faster later this week when the fifth vaccination group — all remaining adults — become eligible for those shots.

More than 5.2 million doses have been administered since mid-December, with at least 400,000 doses going out in each of the last three weeks for which the agency has completed data. 

Just since Thursday — its most recent statistical update before Monday — the state added nearly 300,000 doses administered to its running total.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported its first single day with 4 million doses given, which helped push the weekly rolling average past 3 million per day.

“If we can really push forward and vaccinate more and more people, we may outpace the spread of the virus,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina’s medical school.

The cases of those variants are also climbing, with the CDC’s update Sunday night showing 207 cases of the three new strains it is monitoring — up from 186 a week earlier and 85 the week before that. Most of those are the strain first spotted in the United Kingdom.

Other states — such as Florida and Michigan — have more than 1,000 cases of the UK variant.

“The variants are here. And they’re spreading,” Wohl said.

The finish line, so to speak, could be herd immunity, though even that shapes up as a moving target. Public health experts have estimated that at least 70 percent of people should be immune — either via vaccination or from recovering from COVID-19 — to reach herd immunity.

Wohl says the emergence of the variants might require those numbers to be “tweaked.”

Ultimately, winning that race might be up to everyone. That means continuing to adhere to the three Ws — which is complicated by some states lifting mask mandates and other spread-slowing restrictions — and getting the vaccine.

“We just continue to encourage people both to be vaccinated and to be vigilant about travel or other personal interactions until they’re fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, a trauma surgeon at Duke University Hospital.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.