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Vaccine appointments readily available in WNC

Vaccine appointments readily available in WNC

Vaccination rates slowed substantially across the four-county area over the past week, and the pace will likely continue to slacken as health departments across the area report a dearth of demand.

Haywood County, Jackson County, and the clinic at Western Carolina University all said that they did not order any new vaccine doses for the current week, as they still have ample supply on hand from previous weeks. WCU has more than 1,100 Pfizer doses and 2,000 Johnson & Johnson doses in storage, and Haywood County still has nearly 600 doses on hand. Demand has backed off enough in Jackson County that the health department will discontinue the drive-thru model that’s been in place since January and transition to offering on-site vaccinations at its headquarters on Scotts Creek Road.

While Swain County will receive 100 Moderna doses this week, the health department still has 30 doses on hand from a previous distribution. Macon County will receive 600 Moderna doses but has a current inventory of 980 first doses.

Between April 12 and April 19, the percentage of people within the four-county area —including Haywood, Jackson, Swain and Macon counties, as well as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — that had received at least one dose of vaccine jumped nearly 5 percent, from 32 to 36.9 percent. However, over the most recent week from April 19 to April 26, that rate inched up less than 1 percent to 37.7 percent. Statewide data shows a similar, though less exaggerated, pattern.

In North Carolina, 38.1 percent of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, representing 48.2 percent of the state’s adult population and 77.3 percent of its residents age 65 and older. Case numbers remain low, with 1,334 new cases reported on Monday, April 26. In the seven days prior to that date, Haywood County confirmed 56 new cases, Jackson 22, Macon 63 and Swain only three.

While last week’s pause on distribution of the J&J vaccine may have contributed to the slowdown, most providers in Western North Carolina had been distributing Moderna doses, with Pfizer and J&J a rarer find locally.

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The pause on J&J doses was particularly challenging for WCU, which had planned to use the single-shot vaccine with students in order to avoid scheduling complications with the two-shot options over summer break. However, Clinic Director Cortnee Lingerfelt said that updates to the website have made it easier for students to schedule a second dose near their summer residence. The clinic will resume administering J&J doses on Saturday, May 1.

Overall, health departments say that the vaccines appear to be effective. Spokespeople for Harris Regional Hospital, Jackson County Department of Public Health and the Swain County Health Department said they were not aware of any instances of COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people.

Emily Ritter of the Macon County Health Department said that some individuals have contracted the virus after vaccination, but the department does not track that number. Allison Richmond of Haywood County reported two known cases of post-vaccination illness in Haywood County, possibly a third. Richmond added that nationwide, there are 5,800 confirmed cases out of 75 million fully vaccinated people, equivalent to 0.008 percent.

Meanwhile, Gov. Roy Cooper last week laid out a timeline for lifting what few pandemic-related restrictions still remain. So long as trends remain stable and vaccinations continue to proceed, Cooper expects to lift mandatory social distancing, capacity and mass gathering limits — but not the mask mandate — by June 1.

“Each shot in an arm is a step closer to putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror,” Cooper said. “North Carolinians have shown up for each other throughout this entire pandemic, and we need to keep up that commitment by getting our vaccines.”

Everyone over the age of 16 in North Carolina is now eligible to receive a vaccine.

Politics Editor Cory Vaillancourt contributed to this report.

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