RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — President Joe Biden set a goal of having 70 percent of adults in the U.S. with shots in their arms by the Fourth of July.
Here in North Carolina, we might not get there until Thanksgiving.
Not only does our state rank near the bottom nationally in terms of what percentage of adults have gotten the vaccine, but that number is growing at a slower pace than it is in all but eight other states.
With 54 percent of adults in North Carolina getting at least their first shot and the state averaging just 101 vaccinations for every 100,000 people who live here, an analysis by The New York Times projects it will take the state another five months to reach the 70 percent threshold — making it one of the last states to get there.
“The slowdown is not unexpected,” Dr. Bechara Choucair, the White House’s vaccinations coordinator, told CBS 17 on Monday.
It just may take a while longer in North Carolina — and in about 30 of the 50 states.
At the current pace, North Carolina will only have about 57 percent of its adults with at least one shot by July 4. That projection lines up with anecdotal observations of the daily figures from the state Department of Health and Human Services, which typically only show a day-to-day increase of 0.1 to 0.2 of a percentage point to the overall share of adults partially vaccinated.
It could take five more months — or, until November — to get to 70 percent at that rate.
“Definitely we’d want to do everything we can to get to the 70 percent target,” Choucair said.
The Times analysis differs from figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which rank the states in terms of the percentage of adults who have received their first dose. North Carolina ranks 37th nationally in that measure.
The state ranks even lower in the new analysis, which tracks the seven-day rolling average number of shots on a per capita basis. North Carolina checks in at No. 42 with its average of 101 for every 100,000 people.
And yet, North Carolina could beat several other states in the region to that 70 percent goal.
The Times projects Tennessee won’t get there for another six months — and a month longer than that for Louisiana. And in Alabama and Mississippi, it could take more than a year.
RTI International epidemiologist Dr. Pia MacDonald says the southern slowdown could be the latest sign of the rural-urban gap that has become evident in so many other aspects of the pandemic.
“It’s going to be a longer road to untangle why they’re vaccine-hesitant and also help mitigate and solve things that are creating impediments to getting vaccinated,” she said.
Shifting the focus from mass vaccination centers and toward more convenient primary-care physicians’ offices could help, MacDonald said.
“The more we can move into incorporating vaccination into how people normally get vaccinated on an annual basis — the flu vaccine, how do people normally get vaccinated for that? How do people how many children get normally vaccinated for their annual childhood immunization schedules?” MacDonald said. “Moving more towards incorporating it into health care is definitely one strategy that could help move those numbers.”
But that raises a question: What about those people who don’t have access to health care?
“How many people do not have access to routine health care where they would encounter a conversation with a health care provider to encourage vaccination?” MacDonald said. “We need to be working double hard on figuring out how to bring those people into the vaccination strategy.”
Choucair says he understands people still have questions — even now, six months into the vaccination push.
“We know that there are people who still have questions about the vaccines,” he said. “They have questions about the safety of the vaccine, they have questions about how fast the vaccine was developed. Is it going to have any side effects on fertility? Is it safe to get the vaccine while you’re pregnant?
“So there are all these legitimate questions,” Choucair added, “And we’d want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to get people answers to those questions, armed them with the fact so that they can have their own assessments and hopefully, they’ll make their decision to get vaccinated.”