Outreach continues to try and increase North Carolina's COVID-19 lagging vaccination rates

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Vaccination sites and clinics across the state continue see decreased traffic, as providers report an eight straight week of declining vaccinations.

It comes despite eligibility expanding during that stretch, and as North Carolina trails behind national rates.

Tuesday, NC Central hosted a vaccination clinic at the LeRoy T. Walker Physical Education & Recreation Complex. That's where Briana Shakeel, a Durham resident and Howard University student, got her first shot.

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"It's important for everyone to get vaccinated whenever they get the chance. However, I felt like I couldn't encourage others without getting vaccinated myself," said Shakeel, after she finished her observation period.

Shakeel acknowledged initial hesitancy in getting the vaccine, and credited conversations with friends and family in convincing her to do so.

"I definitely feel way more confident because so many people have gotten it, and I feel like different backgrounds of people have gotten it. There's been enough diversity for everyone to feel a little bit more comfortable with getting it themselves," Shakeel said.

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Dr. Reginald Fennell is a nurse practitioner at NC Central's Student Health Center, who has been working at the vaccine site since March.

"I think it's very important that at HBCUs we have vaccine clinics. Because it's a more trusted source for some. But we've vaccinated people of all races. So it's been really good too for us to reach out to all individuals, but particularly for Black and brown communities," said Dr. Fennell.

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Despite making up 23% of the state's population, the Black community accounts for just 18% of vaccinations. However, there has been some recent progress; last week, the Black community accounted for 24% of vaccinations in the state.

With schools ending, Dr. Fennell encouraged younger people to take advantage of their ability to get vaccinated; last month, the FDA expanded Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year olds.

"Now that we can vaccinate (them), that we get as many of them vaccinated as possible especially as we go back to summer camps, and get ready for the fall season," Dr. Fennell said.

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Through Monday, 54% of adults in North Carolina are at least partially vaccinated, compared to 63.7% of American adults. Within the past few days, North Carolina did reach a milestone of having 50% of its adult population fully vaccinated.

Even though the rate of vaccinations has fallen, case counts, hospitalizations, and positivity rate have continued to drop. It's difficult to discern the impact of natural immunity from people who have protection after recovering from COVID-19. Even with that, Dr. David Weber, a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC School of Medicine, encouraged those with it to get vaccinated.

"(The) vaccine is more effective for preventing disease than having had natural infection. People who have had natural infection and had a vaccine get a large boost in their antibody levels. And the rates of infection following natural disease, reinfection, are higher than the rates of infection after having vaccine," said Dr. Weber, who added that the risk of getting severely ill is reduced in both cases.

He believes it's too early to tell if the downward trend in COVID-19 metrics will continue following loosened restrictions and increased travel.

"I don't know that we won't see an uptick in cases. Of course, mitigating that is the continued increase, although the rate of new vaccinations is decreasing, more people still continue to be vaccinated. That will lessen the chance of a surge. On the other hand, the spread of some of the COVID variants with increased infectiousness may enhance a surge," Dr. Weber said, noting he believed we would have a better idea in the next three-to-six weeks.

North Carolina Central is set to host another vaccination clinic Thursday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., where walk-ins are welcome.

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