As North Carolina sees slowdown in COVID vaccine sign-ups, health officials work to address remaining hesitancy

As North Carolina continues to face a slowdown in vaccine sign-ups, health officials are working to connect with people who remain hesitant about getting their shots.

"At least 10% of the doses that we administered in February, March, and April were dedicated to a team we called the strike team. That team was really intended to take the vaccines into communities," said Ryan Jury, Wake County's Vaccination Branch Director.

Jury said that 94% of COVID-19 deaths in Wake County have been people 50 and older, but 43% of current cases are those between the ages of 24-49.

"We would really love to see (24 to 49-year old's) vaccinated to help decrease some of that community spread," Jury said.

Jury said they hope to begin offering walk-in vaccinations in the next two to three weeks. Wake County announced plans to open up a clinic in Fuquay-Varina and Zebulon next month, as they try to expand access.

"We can really flip the medical paradigm on its head. Instead of waiting people to get care, we can take care to them. So we're talking about what it would look like to have mobile clinics and pop-up clinics," said Jury while discussing potential future plans.

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After topping 500,000 vaccinations for the first time during the week of April 5, North Carolina has had back-to-back weeks of declines, a troubling sign.

Through Monday, 48.5% of adults are at least partially vaccinated; nationally, the CDC reports that 54.2% of adults are at least partially vaccinated.

Boosting those numbers will mean connecting with people who are vaccine hesitant, like Rita McDaniel was last month.

"There was not enough information," said McDaniel, who has several high-risk conditions.

After speaking with her doctor, she ended up getting both shots.

"I can't tell someone to do something without do it myself. I'm living proof that I had no side effects," said McDaniel.

She's now trying to convince family and friends to roll up their sleeves as well, sharing one such interaction.

"I called (my friend) and said 'Hey, they've got this walk-in clinic. You can go in and get your shot.' And she was like 'Uh.' I was like, 'Come on, let's get this.' And she went. And she said that after she went, she was glad," said McDaniel.

McDaniel believes as more information about vaccine safety is released, some concerns will dissipate.

"I pray that I don't catch COVID. But if I do happen to catch it, I pray that the symptoms will be less harmful than if I hadn't (gotten the vaccine)," McDaniel said, who added she feels safer leaving the house.

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Outside of personal testimony, Reverend Donald Gregory Ceres of Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Durham stressed the importance of familiarity.

"Those of us in the faith community are trying to make the argument that part of loving one's neighbor is being vaccinated because it impacts your neighbor, not just your household and your family," said Ceres.

Last month, the church hosted a vaccination event for 500 people.

"Their oftentimes is somewhat among our community a distrust among government entities but there is a certain level of trust still found in the church," said Ceres.

He hopes local and state health officials continue to foster relationships with churches.

"We can begin to break those barriers down," said Ceres.

On Thursday May 6, Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh is hosting a Johnson & Johnson vaccination clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in partnership with Hayes Barton Pharmacy.

Duke Health plans to transition the Wheels Fun park location to offering appointments or walk-ins daily. Starting May 3, it will offer walk-in clinic hours from 1 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, in addition to appointments.

A Duke Health spokesperson told ABC11 that "our walk-in clinics have been met with enthusiasm from the community. Patients tell us that the ease of being able to get the vaccine, without the pre-planning of having to make an appointment, is very convenient. It's our hope that this model removes barriers and provides community empowerment, by allowing people to get their shot at a time that works best for their schedule, alongside those they love, without having to have access to the internet or a phone."

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