BEAUFORT — Citing a decline in calls for COVID-19 vaccination appointments, Carteret County officials announced Monday they would discontinue mass vaccination clinics that have been offered in Morehead City.
The last mass clinic will be Friday, April 30 at the former Kmart on Highway 70. Carteret County appears to be the first North Carolina county to make such an announcement.
During the County Consolidated Human Services Board meeting, held at the Department of Social Services in Beaufort, Health Director Nina Oliver said the doses received by the county will be administered at the County Health Department after April 30. Other private providers are also offering vaccinations.
“After April 30, eligible individuals who wish to receive a vaccination can locate a provider and schedule an appointment by using myspot.nc.gov,” she said. “The health department will continue to provide the COVID vaccine in the community. Details are currently being planned.”
Board member Ralph Merrill questioned whether it was a good idea to suspend the mass clinics.
“When we start closing our biggest venue, I don’t understand why we’re doing it,” he said.
Ms. Oliver said they weren’t closing, but changing the venue of where the vaccines will be available.
“The vaccine is now available at several locations in the county and it’s more convenient for citizens to go to pharmacies or other providers,” she said. “Many citizens have transportation issues and it’s easier for them to travel to a location closer to their home.”
County Commissioner Mark Mansfield said at their busiest point, the clinics were vaccinating up to 2,300 people per day, but now “we’re struggling to fill 500 appointments a week.”
Consolidated Human Services Director Cindy Holman agreed there has been a large decrease in the number of people calling to make appointments.
“At one point we had a large waiting list, but now we have problems filling appointments,” she said. “It takes a lot of manpower to keep mass clinics open. We have health department staff, DSS staff, hospital staff and many volunteers. We don’t want people just standing around. We want to spread the vaccine out in the community. If we see that the need for a mass clinic starts to rise, we know how to do it now and we will start it back up.”
Ms. Oliver said as of Monday, 25.4% of county residents have been fully vaccinated, with 31.8% partially vaccinated.
“We are definitely in the top 20 counties in the state on the percentage of people vaccinated. That is amazing,” she said.
While the state last week approved Carteret County to receive 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, Ms. Oliver said Tuesday morning she was unsure if the county will receive the doses after the Center for Disease Control and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services temporarily suspended the use of the J&J vaccine Tuesday morning to study a few reports of severe reactions.
“They probably won’t send them,” she said. “We are supposed to get more information on this in the coming days.”
Health officials had planned to use the 500 J&J doses to focus on highly marginalized groups, including jail inmates, homeless populations and homebound individuals. They had planned to coordinate the effort between the health department, County Emergency Management Services and law enforcement.
Ms. Oliver said as of Monday, there were 69 active COVID-19 cases in Carteret County, with three COVID-related hospitalizations. There have been 51 related deaths to date.
There have been six COVID-19-related deaths reported since March 31 alone, accounting for nearly 12% of the county’s COVID-19 deaths since start of the pandemic in March 2020.
That’s why it’s important for people to get vaccinated, according to board member Dr. Gregory Reichert.
“We know there are people who will never get vaccinated no matter what you say, but there’s an in-the-middle group who are undecided who need to hear from people who have had the vaccination. If we don’t convince that in-the-middle group to get vaccinated, we aren’t winning,” he said. “How do we get from 35 percent vaccinated to 65 percent vaccinated? It’s going to be the skeptical group we need to reach. Just talk to everyone who will listen about getting vaccinated.”
Ms. Oliver agreed, saying she was looking into how to better educate the community about the safety and importance of getting vaccinated.
Board member Jody Lewis suggested coordinating with the county school system to host vaccination clinics at high schools.
“My daughter is 16 and goes to West Carteret High School and is interested in getting vaccinated, but try scheduling that between dance, cheerleading and other activities,” she said. “Would the health department be able to offer clinics at the high schools?”
As for county locations who are now offering COVID-19 vaccinations, County Human Resources Director Jaime Long provided a list of some of the locations in the county. They include: Carteret Health Care, Carteret County Health Department, Carolina East Internal Medicine in Cape Carteret and Morehead City, Open Water in Beaufort and Morehead City, Realo Discount Drugs in Beaufort and Cape Carteret, Broad Street Clinic, Harris Teeter Pharmacy, Walgreens, Med First Urgent Care in Emerald Isle and CVS Pharmacy. Other locations may also offer them and it’s best to check with your individual health care provider.
The News-Times reached out to Carteret Health Care for further information about the hospital’s vaccination plans, but did not hear back by presstime.
Individuals 16 years of age and older who wish to receive a vaccination at the remaining Kmart clinics prior to April 30 can do so by calling 252-728-8550 and selecting option 2.
After April 30, eligible individuals who wish to receive a vaccination can locate a provider and schedule an appointment online at myspot.nc.gov.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.