PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Could demand for the COVID-19 vaccine be waning?
In Pender County, it’s possible. At least, it’s possibly waning among those currently eligible to receive the vaccine.
For the first time since vaccines became available, the Pender County health department struggled to fill all of the appointment slots for first doses this week.
It’s a scenario Health Director Carolyn Moser could not have imagined six weeks ago.
“On Tuesday and Thursday this week, we had opened it up for 200 new first doses to be given at the Hampstead site and at the Burgaw, and it took us quite a while to fill those spots,” Moser said. “We were seeing it take a little bit longer in the previous weeks about getting appointments online, but this go round it was practically the full day before we were able to fill the 400 slots.”
On Wednesday, they held a clinic by appointment for the 600 school staff who wanted a shot; however, about 100 people didn’t show up for their appointment.
Moser says they were able to vaccinate 485 school staff from Pender County, which is roughly one-third the total number of staff.
It’s very important that providers administer the doses they’re allocated every week, because if doses sit on the shelves, the county and the state will receive fewer vaccines in the future from the federal government.
Moser assured us that “not one dose has gone to waste.”
“This week we’ve given nearly 1,600 vaccines including first and second doses,” Moser said.
Moser isn’t sure why demand seems to be slowing among healthcare workers and those over 65.
“I don’t know if there are some that are waiting to be vaccinated with a private provider,” she said. “I don’t know if they’re waiting for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I don’t know if they’re maybe still a little hesitant and still waiting to make a decision.”
It’s possible that some people are now holding out in the hopes of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose instead of two.
However, it is rarely shared ahead of time which vaccine is available when you make an appointment, and Moser expects many of the Johnson & Johnson doses will be allocated for mass events across the state.
Moser doesn’t expect to receive any of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine before mid-late April.
She says the slowing of demand is being seen in other parts of the state as well.
“I don’t think [this situation] is any different than a lot of counties that I’ve spoken with,” she said. “There are more and more vaccines available in different settings and I anticipate that will continue.”
Looking forward, Moser says they’re going to move into additional groups of front line essential workers eligible under Group 3 of the phases.
“We are going to vaccinate our county employees next week. Law enforcement is being vaccinated, then you have manufacturing; you have food processing, your restaurant and grocery stores, postal service, court system — so there will be a variety of people who are your front line essential workers,” Moser said.
The group Moser is most concerned about at this time — Group 4 — includes people with a higher risk because of medical conditions.
According to the NCDHHS timeline, they’ll become eligible March 24.
The sign-up process has been notably frustrating.
The county only opens appointment bookings when officials can confirm how many doses they’ll have in their next shipment — which is usually information sent by the state on Fridays.
A call-back waiting list has been tried in Pender County.
At one point it had 4,000 names on it.
The problem is that people will sign-up on multiple waiting lists across various health providers and in multiple counties; or, they’ll drive to other counties and get their shot elsewhere.
Health providers understand that many people just want to get the shot as soon as possible, but public health staff was spending valuable time trying to call people on the wait list, only for them to not answer the phone or have already gotten their shot, and the process of managing the waiting list became impossible.
In Pender County, you can book appointments online or by phone by calling 910-663-4200.