‘Tipping point’ fast approaching when vaccine supply in NC exceeds demand

North Carolina

FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2021, file photo, empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a vaccination center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The state could pass the tipping point of having more doses of vaccine than people who want them in the coming weeks, a medical expert said Wednesday.

Dr. Charlene Wong, a faculty member at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and the chief COVID-19 health policy officer for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said pockets of North Carolina are already “seeing variations” where supply is greater than demand.

“We will likely reach that across the state over the next several weeks,” she said.

That’s in part why the state opened the vaccination rollout to all people over 16 starting Wednesday.

“We do know at some point we will hit that peak of supply exceeding demand,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

A CBS17.com data analysis found the state has received more than 6.1 million doses of the three authorized vaccines, with the 602,990 doses arriving this week representing a 10 percent increase over the previous week — which itself was 17 percent higher than the week before.

Nearly 40 percent of the state’s adult population of roughly 8 million is at least partially vaccinated and thus already accounted for in that dose total, working out to about 3.1 million people.

But 13 percent of respondents to a Kaiser Health Network survey released last week said they definitely would not get the vaccine, and applying that percentage to the state’s population would yield more than one million adult North Carolinians turning down inoculation.

That could leave about 3.9 million who want a shot but have yet to receive one. And if the vaccine shipments from the federal government to the state continue to increase at rates between 10 percent and 20 percent each week, that demand could be filled by mid-May.

It’s already happening in some localized parts of the state: Halifax County recently turned down doses because of a lack of demand.

“In North Carolina, like most other states, we’re really seeing variations in the state for some areas where already the supply is larger than the demand,” Wong said. “And then we have other areas of the state where still, there’s a lot more demand than we have vaccine doses available. We have continued to see improvements or increases in the vaccine doses available in North Carolina, with federal projections that those are only going to continue to rise.”

Cooper says the state’s goal is “to continue to push up the demand until we can get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Wong says that could come with a strategy shift with the goal of making it easier for people to get those shots “so that people don’t have to travel as far or work as hard to get a vaccine.

“It means we’re also able to activate or bring more vaccine providers across North Carolina into the game of getting COVID-19 vaccines out to North Carolinians,” she said.

It also could mean a change for providers who became accustomed to people “seeking the vaccine out.”

“We’re now working with vaccine providers to continue to refine and mature their strategies for filling those appointments, really driving that demand, partnering with community-based organizations who can help get the word out, making it as easy as possible for folks to get that appointment,” she said.

Ultimately, it means lowering that percentage of people who oppose being vaccinated and convincing them of the benefits for themselves and for a society at large hoping to reach the herd immunity threshold of at least 70 percent to 80 percent.

“Our strategy for reaching folks who are either taking a wait-and-see approach, or maybe still have questions or are hesitant about the vaccine, it’s really about finding the right messengers,” Wong said. “And getting them the accurate up to date information about the vaccines to have conversations with folks who were in those different camps.”

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