Columbus County ranks among lowest in percentage of residents vaccinated

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - According to the state health department, just 30 percent of people in Columbus County are fully vaccinated to protect against COVID-19. The NCDHHS says 44 percent of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated.

Columbus County ranks among the lowest of the 100 counties in North Carolina in percentage of their population vaccinated and in percentage of people with at least one dose of the vaccine. Both numbers fall below the state average.

“There’s a lot of behavioral theories out there,” says Columbus County health director Kim Smith. “You know, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

Smith says the vaccine numbers in the county are low despite efforts from the health department to make the vaccine more accessible, especially to the county’s farmers and local businesses.

“I think that here in our county the reason that we are trying to do the pop-ups and what not is there is a problem with transportation,” said Smith. “And so we’ve gone out to lots of farmworkers, lots of businesses here in the county. We have sent strike teams out to those places out there.”

Right now, the county health department offers vaccines every day, Smith just asks residents call ahead to let the department know they are coming. Smith, however, says the vaccine supply the county has far exceeds the demand.

The county also plans to hold an evening vaccine clinic on June 15 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to help people after work hours find a time to get their shot.

Another way Smith believes the county could get more shots into arms would be to offer cash incentives for people to get their shot. The state’s pilot program offering cash gift cards for vaccine recipients in four counties ended on Tuesday. County Manager Eddie Madden says he is not aware of any plans to bring an incentive program to Columbus County.

“That proposal hasn’t been made to us thus far,” said Madden. “I would say our interest, of course, is to make sure we get as many people vaccinated in the county as possible. We have seen some improvements in the numbers here as of late.”

Smith thinks incentives could be a way to help boost the vaccination rate, but stresses that they would need funds from the state.

“I’m sure that that would work here. It seems to be working in those four counties, but the state has not released us to provide such incentives and we would have to get the incentives from the state so we don’t have those in our budget,” said Smith.

At last report, the percentage of the population of each of the southeastern North Carolina counties that is fully vaccinated is as follows:

Brunswick: 48%

New Hanover: 46%

Pender: 35%

Bladen: 32%

Columbus: 30%

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