Cooper says 2/3 of NC adults need vaccines to drop mask mandate; when could that happen?

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As North Carolina is set to remove many capacity limits and restrictions by June 1, it appears a ways off from reaching Gov. Roy Cooper's goal of 2/3 of North Carolina adults receiving vaccines to remove a mask mandate.

Through Wednesday, 49% of adults in North Carolina are at least partially vaccinated, a figure that trails behind the national rate of 54.5%. The state has seen a sharp drop in vaccinations; North Carolina providers administered more than 500,000 doses in a week for the first time earlier this month, but during the week of April 19, administered fewer than 300,000 doses. More troublesome, the bulk of those doses were second shots, meaning fewer people are signing up.

"This is a new turn in this (illness). And the one thing that we see from everybody with COVID is the people who are coming in with severe disease, all of them are not vaccinated," said Dr. David Kirk, the System Chief Medical Officer for WakeMed.

Though North Carolina has earned praise for its efforts in vaccinating its 65-and-older population, it's struggling to reach younger people.

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"We see young people come in every day with very severe illness. They're coming in and being required to be on the ventilator for weeks," Kirk said.

To reach 2/3 of adults, North Carolina would need to administer vaccines to about 1.3 million more people, which would equal about 40,000 a day to hit the mark by June 1. During the week of April 19, state and federal providers combined to administer 126,604 first doses, which equals 18,086 per day. At that rate, it would take nearly 2 1/2 months to reach 2/3 of adults.

In North Carolina, people 18-49 make up 41.9% of the population, but just 36.2% of vaccinations. While younger people have been eligible for less time, supply issues have been largely addressed, and many clinics are now shifting to walk-in appointments, removing another barrier to access.

"You talk about normalcy and opening up our state, especially North Carolina we're making some inroads to getting there, and (we) really, really need the rest of these patients to come in and get their shots so we can really truly be open as quickly as possible," said Dr. Ritesh Patel, Pharmacy Director of Eastern Carolina Medical Center in Benson.

"There's no reason not to get a vaccine. There's multiple areas where you can walk in from pharmacies to here at WakeMed, where we allow walk-ins. And if you feel you prefer one vaccine over another, there's options," Kirk said.

Following the CDC and FDA review, the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is again being offered by clinics.

The state's COVID-19 metrics have been fairly stable during the past couple of months, though vaccination rates still are below what epidemiologists believe is necessary to achieve herd immunity. The presence of variants, coupled with reopening plans, can also pose future challenges if people don't get their vaccines.

"Your risk being young, it may be small but if (COVID) hits you, it can be life-changing, and it can be deadly. We are seeing young people die from this disease," Kirk said.

Patel has been traveling the state, trying to connect with underserved populations in administering vaccines.

"We've gone to local churches, we've gone to temples and mosques," Patel said, and he added that his team is also doing vaccines for homebound individuals.

Next week, he is teaming up with Square Burger for a vaccine clinic at Moore Square in Raleigh. From May 4 through May 7, people who receive a vaccine at the clinic will receive a free, hot meal. A similar event will take place June 1 through June 4, with both being open from noon to 5 p.m. The clinic will offer both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson doses.

"It's so generous for (Square Burger) to say let's take some of those barriers out, and we're doing our best to do that together," Patel said.

Counties and providers have begun advertising walk-in appointments, stressing convenience.

"We were finding it harder and harder to get people from our waiting list to fill our spots. So we just decided to go to more availability for times and locations," said Todd McGee, the Communications Director for Orange County, which is highlighting openings at their Hillsborough clinic.

Duke Health and UNC Health are both offering walk-ins, while Wake County's Public Health Department said it hopes to begin doing so in the next two to three weeks.
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