What impact has FDA approval had on North Carolina’s vaccine numbers?

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The effect of FDA approval on North Carolina’s total of new COVID-19 vaccinations so far looks more like a plateau than a spike.

After two weeks of declines, the number of new vaccinations across the state leveled off during the week that followed the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I think there’s definitely reason to believe that the full FDA approval has contributed to a consistent number of first doses that are being administered,” said Elizabeth Ramsey, an administrator at UNC Health who ran the University of North Carolina’s Friday Center vaccination clinic before it closed last month.

The key word is consistent: Even as the contagious delta variant continued to spread across the state, the number of first doses given across the state dropped each week in August. 

But preliminary numbers show the decline was less pronounced last week — and when all the doses are counted, may yet show a rise.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources counted 73,604 first doses given during the week of Aug. 23 — a drop of 6 percent from the previous week. That’s an improvement from the drop of 15 percent from the preceding week.

And the numbers from last week could still go up because DHHS includes a disclaimer that numbers could still be incomplete for the most recent weeks and should be interpreted with caution.

“So in other words, we haven’t seen numbers drop in first doses,” Ramsey said. “First dose administrations have been certainly lower than they were months ago, but fairly consistent over the last few weeks. And so I think that’s an indication that … maybe the full FDA approval has contributed to that.”

The FDA’s move led to two obvious effects: In addition to removing one of the reasons some unvaccinated people gave for their hesitancy, it also opened the door for employers to require the shots for their workers.

“There are lots of moving pieces. And I think it’s hard to isolate the actual motivation behind it,” Ramsey said. “But the most important thing is that the traffic is still there, and people are still coming to get vaccinated.”

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 3 in 10 unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get the shots if they had full FDA approval.

In North Carolina, 3 in 10 unvaccinated adults would work out to about 1 million additional people getting that first shot. That would push the percentage of adults with at least one dose beyond 70 percent — the since-missed goal set by President Biden for July 4.

Currently, 65 percent of adults in the state are at least partially vaccinated.

“If those numbers are true, then not only are they motivating for patients to be able to want that vaccine, but now access is great, and people can get it pretty much wherever they want,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey predicts demand for the vaccine will rise again, for several reasons.

Some immunocompromised people who were vaccinated months ago may get a third shot as a booster. And Ramsey is hopeful that a vaccine soon will be authorized for emergency use in children between the ages of 5 and 11.

“There’s so many different demand streams coming in,” she said. “The demand is quickly going to rise, and I think that will be when we really need to look closely at the numbers and keep track on first doses, especially to see when those people are paying attention to full FDA approval and if that is a motivating factor.”

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