Why are NC, other Southeastern states lagging in the COVID-19 vaccine push?

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Even the large numbers of North Carolina children between 12 and 15 years old who have been getting COVID-19 vaccines aren’t enough to improve where the state ranks nationally.

North Carolina is one of eight Southeastern states ranking in the bottom 15 in terms of the share of the total population getting at least one vaccine dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency’s numbers place the state at No. 37 nationally with just 42.5 percent of its population of about 10.5 million people getting either the first dose of the two-dose vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson product.

Every other state in the Southeast except Florida ranks lower than North Carolina, and the region accounts for the bottom three — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. It continues a trend that has persisted through the vaccine rollout and raises a pertinent question.

Why?

“I think there’s a lot of factors at play,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International.

CBS 17 News twice has asked that question to state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. Both times she has said that ranking is evidence that the state has more work to do in the vaccine push.

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University’s medical school, says it’s partly because North Carolina wasn’t hit as hard as other states during the worst of the pandemic.

“If you’re someone who’s lived through what happened in Manhattan (at) this time last year, you’ve seen what COVID can do firsthand,” Wolfe said. “And I think people’s motivation is remarkably different.”

Southern states also tend to be more rural — 80 percent of North Carolina’s 100 counties are classified as rural by the North Carolina Rural Center — and that makes the rollout more complicated. 

That’s especially true of earlier in the push when vaccinations had to be scheduled in advance and appointments could only be made online — perhaps more of a challenge in rural areas where access to the internet isn’t as readily available.

Elizabeth Ramsey, who runs the vaccine clinic at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Friday Center, says it could also reflect patients still not taking COVID-19 seriously or “distrusting of the need for vaccination against this virus.”

“So I think more education is going to be required, getting out in the public, offering vaccine in a place where it’s really easy and convenient for the patient, and they can make a decision in the moment if they decide to get the vaccine and continuing to do the best we can to reach all patient populations and make sure they’re educated,” Ramsey said.

DHHS so far has recorded only slightly more than 110,000 vaccine doses administered last week. If that number isn’t revised upward in the coming days, it would mark the smallest number of total doses given since the last week of December — when the vaccine supply was a fraction of what it is now.

Just over 50,000 of shots last week were first doses — and 40 percent of those went to children under 18 during the first full week they were eligible to get it.

“You can definitely see that they’re making up the majority of the patients that are coming into the clinic,” Ramsey said.

There were five counties — four in the Triangle — where children between 12 and 17 accounted for at least half of the vaccinations last week.

Leading the way: Orange County, where 68 percent of those vaccinated were under 18. Dare (59 percent), Wake (58 percent), Chatham (51 percent) and Durham (50 percent) are also on the list.

“You can definitely see that they’re making up the majority of patients that are coming into the clinic,” Ramsey said.


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.


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