BEAUFORT — With changes to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan announced this week, Carteret County health officials say they are doing what they can with the limited supply of vaccines they’ve been provided to get through an extensive waitlist of residents who want the shot.
The County Health Department has partnered with Carteret Health Care and other local providers to offer mass vaccination clinics as the primary way of vaccinating the county’s 65 and older population. The county has hosted two clinics, so far, and a third mass vaccination clinic is scheduled for Saturday.
To date, more than 5,000 people in Carteret County have received at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but County Emergency Services Director Stephen Rea said the demand still far outpaces supply. He informed the County Board of Commissioners Monday evening there are around 13,000 people on the waitlist to receive a vaccine.
“A lot of the reason that the waitlist is not going down is because there is a lack of vaccine coming into the county,” he said during the board’s regular monthly meeting held at the administration complex in Beaufort. “We have a lot more demand for vaccination than we have vaccines coming into the county.”
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday the state would only be getting 120,000 doses of vaccine for the coming week, less than half the amount the state received in previous weeks. Some of that supply will be diverted to large-scale vaccination clinics that were planned previously, leaving some local health agencies with little to no vaccine for the coming week.
“As long as we are getting such a small amount of vaccine as a state, there are going to be challenges and shortages as we try to ensure equitable access to vaccine, while getting shots into arms quickly. We understand this is hard for providers who are doing everything right,” NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said.
In a Tuesday release, Carteret County officials said the county and CHC still anticipate receiving the 1,375 doses they were allocated for the coming week. The county did not respond to further News-Times questions about the future availability of vaccines as the state shifts its plans.
North Carolina officials announced other changes to the state’s vaccine allocation process are coming soon, as well. Carteret County Consolidated Human Services Director Cindy Holman said, based on a call with the state she attended Monday, that includes moving to a population-based allocation model in the future, with a limited number of vaccines set aside for marginalized groups as identified by the state.
County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Ed Wheatly pointed out Carteret County’s population skews older, with around 27% of residents 75 years or older. Commissioners asked Ms. Holman to request the state take that into account when allocating vaccines.
“You certainly can request it,” she said, but added it likely will not help the county receive a larger share.
Health officials have also complained the state’s current allocation process makes it difficult to plan ahead for vaccination appointments and mass clinics because the amount of vaccines received varies from week to week. Kim Davis, public health nursing supervisor with the health department, explained the weekly process.
“As we move into the next upcoming week, the way that the state allocates (vaccines), we typically find out on either Thursday evening or Friday how much allocation we will be receiving for the following week,” she said. “It makes it very challenging to schedule clinics.”
The county typically receives its shipment for the week Tuesday or Wednesday and aims to exhaust the supply by the following Monday.
CHC CEO Harvey Case said the hospital is experiencing similar challenges in scheduling appointments based on the weekly allocation.
“From week to week we never really know what we’re getting, so that’s one of the challenges we face,” he said during a CHC Board of Directors meeting Monday.
The county is still accepting requests from eligible residents to be placed on the waitlist for a vaccine. To do so, fill out the form found at carteretcountync.gov/vaccine or call 252-728-8550, option 2. The county advises individuals on the waitlist to answer calls from unknown numbers as it may be staff calling to schedule an appointment.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.