RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) ― The COVID-19 vaccine push in North Carolina and across the country appears to have bottomed out.
And as the rules on masks and other mitigation measures were lifted, the vaccination effort clearly came to a halt.
“It’s true that we certainly haven’t seen that many people getting vaccinated for the first time,” said Dr. Erica Pettigrew, family physician and associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. . “And I don’t think any of us are surprised by that.”
In each of the past two weeks, the state has set records for the total number of first and second doses administered, according to figures from the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Preliminary figures from NCDHHS show around 15,000 of them came out last week, worse than the previous low of around 18,500 that was given the previous week.
These totals do not include booster doses, which, almost every day since late November, have accounted for the highest number of total doses administered.
NCDHHS data shows some counties where no one — not a single person — received a first dose in any given week. For example, County Tyrell had no first dose listed during the week of February 14.
For more than a month, the rate of adults vaccinated with at least one dose in the state has been stuck at 75%.
And the push to unmask children in schools comes as only about a quarter of children ages 5 to 11 are partially vaccinated — by far the lowest rate among age groups tracked by NCDHHS.
“If you haven’t had your child immunized yet, it’s time to revisit that decision,” Pettigrew said.
The decline in North Carolina’s numbers mirrors that nationwide, with the average number of Americans receiving their first vaccine dropping to around 90,000 a day. This is the lowest rate since the vaccine rollout began in December 2020, when few vaccines were available and even fewer people were qualified to get them.
The statewide percentage rose one point to 75% on Jan. 27 — and hasn’t budged since.
Vaccination takes on even more importance now because so many cities, counties and employers have lifted their mask mandates to comply with guidelines issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pettigrew said.
“There are only a few tools we have, really, to fight this pandemic,” she said. “In public health, we don’t want to abandon all the protections at once.”
So where do we go from here?
Pettigrew hopes lifting the mask rules may actually cause some resisters to give in and get their shots — the triumph of the metaphorical carrot over the stick.
“I’m hopeful that over the next few weeks and months more people will get vaccinated, especially parents who choose to have their children vaccinated,” she said. “Because there is data to show that when things like mask mandates are lifted in school districts, vaccination rates may actually go up, which makes sense.”
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