RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The push to get the oldest North Carolinians double-boosted against COVID-19 so far is looking like a bust.
Only about 1 in 8 state residents who are both over 50 years old and eligible for a second booster dose of the vaccine have only gotten one, according to state data obtained this week by CBS 17 News.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are slightly different, but paint a similarly bleak picture: Fewer than 16 percent of people 50 and older in the state who got a first booster dose have also received a second.
That puts North Carolina just 45th nationally — with a rate that’s less than half of what it is in No. 1 Oregon, where 33.3 percent of boosted seniors have received that second extra dose.
But at least it’s better than North Dakota, where that rate is just 12.3 percent.
“It's disappointing. It's not surprising,” said Dr. Erica Pettigrew, a family practice physician and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “What that number tells me is we still have some work to do.”
A year and a half since the vaccines became available, boosters continue to make up most vaccinations — accounting for roughly three-quarters of all doses given each week. Between 30,000 and 40,000 booster doses have been given each week since May 1, according to state data.
And the overwhelming majority of those are the first boosters. The state Department of Health and Human Resources has counted fewer than 240,000 people who have received a second booster dose as of May 30 — a tiny sliver of the 3.6 million total booster doses that have been given -- according to spokeswoman Catie Armstrong.
The progression of the initial vaccine rollout in Spring 2021 showed how difficult it was to persuade some people to return to clinics and pharmacies for more shots. It was tough enough to get them to come back for the second dose in the primary two-dose series, and even more difficult to have them show up to get the first booster.
"We certainly have to keep reminding people that the science is now in a position where we think this is important again," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at the Duke University School of Medicine. "And that is done at a time, frankly, when many of us are so fatigued by COVID that we want to move on, we don't want to hear more COVID stories. I'm in the same boat there. So there is a fatigue that plays in here that's unique."
Pettigrew says we're in a tough spot now when the novelty of the vaccines has worn off and the realization that occasional booster shots and other interventions might have to become a way of life.
“It was the hope was that it was going to end of the pandemic. That was a pretty audacious hope, I think," Pettigrew said.
“But people were eager to get it and see what happened in terms of the pandemic being able to be over,” she added. “And so I think now we are settling into what does it mean for COVID to be around for the long haul? And how do we continue to take prevention measures for ourselves and our loved ones so that we can stay safe while the COVID virus, the coronavirus, is still lurking in the community?”
But if you're eligible for a second booster but have not yet gotten one, when should you get it? We know the effectiveness of the vaccines wanes over time, so should you try to time it so that it's at peak efficiency when the next surge could come?
Nope, the doctors say. Get that shot as soon as possible.
Wolfe says we have "been poor at predicting when surges come, frankly, but much better at understanding that our community-level immunity is getting good."
Added Pettigrew: "Don't try to wait or time it quite right, because there's so many variables that we can't predict. It really is impossible. ... Get the boosters that you're eligible for now. And we'll cross that bridge months down the road, when we come to it, if there's another booster that's needed."
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.