Doctors urge vaccinations as concerns over COVID variants linger

As the state prepares to move into Priority Group 5 on Wednesday, doctors are urging people to get vaccinated.

Through Monday, 38.4% of North Carolina adults are fully vaccinated, and an additional 25.2% are partially vaccinated. Until now, the bulk of attention has been on older people, who are most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Now, health officials are partially shifting their focus to a younger population.

"We do still see hesitancy, particularly among some younger people who may not feel they're at as high risk and worry about vaccine side effects despite the science that shows they're safe," said Dr. Thomas Owens, the President of Duke University Hospital.

Thus far, 68.4% of vaccines have gone to people 50 and older, despite making up just 36.1% of the population.

As eligibility expands and more people are able to get their shots, Duke Health is highlighting increasing vaccine supplies in helping lessen wait times.

READ MORE: Children now playing 'huge role' in spread of COVID-19 variant, expert says

"(As of today) it would be under seven days for you to be able to be put on the waitlist and be contacted for an appointment. I don't know how many young people are going to come forward with this exciting next step for Group 5 so we imagine there could be some bump up in that lag time," Owens said.

This week, Duke Health has been allocated 20,000 vaccine doses, including 10,000 single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots, about double from it has been receiving in recent weeks. Wake County Public Health is receiving 41,680 doses this week for 63 providers, its new high mark.

The increased supply comes as Group 5 eligibility will allow all North Carolinians 16 years old and older to receive their shots.

Health officials are encouraging people to sign up once they're able to, as there are concerns about a possible uptick stemming from variant strains.

"Variants including the UK variant are spreading at higher rates nationally and even here in North Carolina. So in combination, that makes us worry that people gathering, sharing mealtime unmasked together, and a little increase in virus is a recipe for more rapid spread as is being reported for example in Michigan and some other states right now," Owens said, alluding to recent holiday weekends.

NCDHHS reports hospitalizations are down from 985 on Thursday to 907 Monday, though the case positivity rate increased from 4.4% to 6% in the same time period.

Early reports show that vaccines do fare well against variant strains, however not enough of the population has received their shots at this point, another reason why doctors continue to push for sign-ups.

"We are not out of the woods yet, and there's a very real possibility or probability of a fourth surge if you will, that may be starting in the Midwest and parts of the country now and could come to North Carolina," said Dr. Owens.

North Carolina continues to have ample hospital and ICU bed capacity, as well as access to ventilators.
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