Supply of COVID vaccine has grown in NC. Will it be enough to keep up with demand?

Richard Stradling, Adam Wagner
·5 min read

The opening of COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday to Group 5, or anyone 16 and older who hasn’t received the vaccine, comes as the supply of vaccine in North Carolina is as great as ever, which should help satisfy the increase in demand, health officials say.

The state received 391,760 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week, up from 326,780 last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares to 223,120 doses the second week of March and 147,575 doses the second week of February.

This week’s increase was largely driven by the state beginning to see a long-expected rise in deliveries of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This week, the federal government sent 149,800 Johnson & Johnson doses to North Carolina, more than twice the 58,800 that arrived last week.

Wednesday will be the first time the COVID-19 vaccine is available to anyone in North Carolina age 16 and older, regardless of their health or occupation. Because of limited supplies of vaccine, the state initially limited availability to groups most at-risk for severe complications from the coronavirus, then gradually expanded eligibility.

“Because of the hard work of providers and commitment of North Carolinians to take their shot, we’re getting people vaccinated more quickly than we predicted,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during a press conference Tuesday. “This will help us turn the corner on the pandemic even sooner. But the work isn’t over yet.”

The extra doses will help with the increased demand. UNC Health, which operates 17 vaccination sites across the state, received 20,960 first doses this week, including 8,900 to be given out at its largest site, the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. That’s up from 16,600 first doses UNC received last week and 7,925 the first week of February, said spokesman Alan Wolf.

On Monday morning, UNC still had appointments available this week at some of its vaccination sites, including the Friday Center, Wolf said. He expects that demand will increase with the wider eligibility, just as it has in the past.

“As each new group becomes eligible, the demand goes up and the appointments just fill up really fast,” he said.

The arrival of 10,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week has helped Duke University Health System cut its waiting list for vaccinations in half, to under 20,000, said Dr. Thomas Owens, senior vice president. Someone added to the list on Monday would likely wait less than seven days to get an appointment, Owens said.

“I don’t know how many people are going to come forward with this next step... so we imagine there could be some bump up in that lag time,” Owens said during a press conference Monday. “We’re also hoping, as we work with the state and federal government, to see even more vaccine brought forward for North Carolina in the next couple of weeks. So I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to match that demand with the supply and have people not waiting more than perhaps two weeks to get their dose of vaccine.”

Duke operates a dozen vaccination sites in the Triangle, including one at Southern High School in conjunction with the Durham County school system and public health department. On Thursday, that clinic will move to the roller rink at Wheels Family Fun Park off North Hoover Road, where Duke will be able to vaccinate 1,000 people a day 7 days a week, Owens said.

So far, the demand for COVID-19 vaccine has outstripped supply in North Carolina, and that will likely remain the case as eligibility is opened to everyone 16 and older. But the vaccine shortage won’t last forever, and people shouldn’t let it discourage them from seeking an appointment or getting on a waiting list, Owens said.

“We want to start getting the message out that the vaccine supply is improving,” he said. “If the deliveries continue as are projected over the next month to month and a half, we’re hopeful that there will be vaccine for everyone who wants to get vaccinated in North Carolina.

“And then our focus needs to be on getting people to step forward to get vaccinated to prevent further surges of COVID and help us get back to a safer, near normal together.”

Lots of options for getting vaccinated

Despite the expected increase in demand, Triangle hospital systems don’t plan to big changes in the way they distribute vaccine.

WakeMed, for example, will continue to vaccinate about 5,000 people a week by appointment at the Andrews Conference Center on its main campus off New Bern Avenue, said Amanda Edwards, who is leading WakeMed’s vaccination effort. WakeMed provides another 500 to 2,000 vaccinations a week through special events at churches, community centers and businesses, Edwards said.

WakeMed has also vaccinated more than 100 hospitalized patients just before they’re discharged to go home. So far, the hospitals have offered the Pfizer vaccine, which requires a follow-up dose, but will switch to the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

“We know that that patient population in particular, having just been hospitalized and still recovering, might benefit from a one-shot regimen before going home,” Edwards said.

In the early weeks of public vaccinations, just about the only place to get inoculated was through a hospital or public health department. That has changed, with more pharmacies and primary care physicians and clinics having vaccine to offer, which has taken some of the burden off hospitals, Edwards said.

“I do think demand will continue to remain high, but it’s so nice to have others helping vaccinate the community,” she said. “There are multiple pathways for anyone to get vaccine at this point, so it’s nice to have more options for everyone.”

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More than 5.2 million vaccinations have been administered in North Carolina, Cooper said, and nearly 40% of adults are at least partially vaccinated and more than a quarter are fully vaccinated.

“Particularly important is that our most vulnerable population, those people 65 and over, is gaining protection every day,” Cooper said. “Seventy-three percent of them have had at least one shot, and 65% of them are fully vaccinated.”