RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout appears to be falling after reaching a peak that coincided with everyone 16 and older becoming eligible to receive it, data suggest.
State leaders and public health experts hope it wasn’t the peak.
“I think it’s a little early to be sounding the alarm bells,” said Paul Delamater, a professor at the University of North Carolina and an expert in health geography who publishes the data tracking website nc-covid.org.
But he added: “We have seen a little dip statewide here in the last week or so.”
The website shows a steady, incremental climb in the seven-day average number of shots given each day across the state, starting in mid-December and continuing through early this month.
But it began to level off right around April 7 — when state leaders opened vaccination to everyone in the state 16 and older.
“It’s looking like we may have hit a plateau,” Delamater said.
Of course, demand had to drop at some point, and state leaders — including Gov. Roy Cooper — expected a time to arrive when vaccine supply would exceed demand.
North Carolina is hardly alone in encountering such a phenomenon, with other states turning down doses so they don’t go to waste.
And it’s reflected at least partly in Wake County’s decision to end vaccine clinics at PNC Arena next month to focus on smaller sites.
But it’s hard to explain why such a dip would develop precisely when so many more people became eligible for it.
“I would expect right now, once Group 5 opened up, for us to be having our highest demand here since then,” Delamater said. “And so I was hoping that we would either see increases, or a plateau at a very high level. … You would expect if there was high demand for it to be the highest right now, because the most people are eligible.”
Less than half of adults in the state — 47.7 percent — have received at least one dose of vaccine, and only 37 percent of them are fully vaccinated. A leveling of demand at this point threatens the pursuit of herd immunity, the point at which a high proportion of people have enough protection that the rest of the population is indirectly protected from it.
“We’re still quite a ways away from reaching this idea of herd immunity or having a large, large portion of our population vaccinated,” Delamater said. “That’s really the only way that we’re going to stamp out this pandemic, once and for all.”
Two weeks into the eligibility of Group 5, and some clear winners and losers have emerged among counties in the race to inoculate their residents.
When measuring the percentages of adults who are at least partially vaccinated, most counties saw gains of 3.5 percentage points or more from April 6 — the day before Group 5 became eligible — and Thursday.
Five counties saw increases of at least 9.7 percentage points, including Wake, Durham and Orange counties in the CBS 17 viewing area. All of those counties are home to massive health care systems.
Of the 10 counties that began Group 5 eligibility with the highest vaccination rates, five remained in the top 10 this week — suggesting that the counties doing the best before that large group became eligible continued to do so during the past two weeks.
At the other extreme, four of the counties near the bottom of the list in early April — including Hoke and Cumberland counties — remained there this week, only picking up 2.3 percentage points or fewer.
“Which are the counties and what is it that’s actually causing these bumps in the numbers or the not-bumps in the numbers in the other counties?” Delamater said. “And I think we’ve got a couple of things happening here … a.) vaccine confidence and/or hesitancy in these places, and b.) access or or people’s ability to overcome barriers to get vaccinated. And we’re going to be sorting that out for a little bit.”