Despite having recently extended eligibility to all adults, Moore County is seeing reduced demand for the coronavirus vaccine.
Fewer residents are signing up for shots through the local health department. Robert Wittmann, director of the department, said the county appears to be approaching a “saturation point of the willing.”
“The supply has come to the point where we’re overtaking the current demand,” Wittmann said during Monday’s meeting of the Moore County Board of Health.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas, the county’s largest medical provider, is reporting a similar drop in interest. Emily Sloan, director of public relations for FirstHealth, said the company had several openings available for a vaccination clinic in Pinehurst on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, we are experiencing a decrease in demand for the vaccine in Moore County,” she said.
Data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services show that 25,046 residents, or about a quarter of the county’s total population, had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. Only six counties had higher percentages of inoculated residents, according to DHHS.
Nearly 55 percent of injections in Moore County have gone to people aged 65 and older. The same age group accounted for just 43 percent of vaccinations administered across the state.
“The elderly are doing pretty well, but it’s the young folks that we’re going to need to bring along,” Wittmann said. “But the good news is that the elderly are the ones at the highest risk. The more we get those people vaccinated and build a bubble around them, the less problematic the younger people are going to be.”
He added: “A lot of the younger people come down with the disease with either mild or no symptoms, and then they walk away with immunity without having to get vaccinated the old-fashioned way.”
Still, Wittmann said the health department is “stepping up our educational campaign” to encourage more residents to get vaccinated. He said the agency is using social media videos, posters and billboards to reach younger residents and people in marginalized communities.
The Moore County Health Department is administering shots by appointment at its office and at the neighboring Agricultural Center building in Carthage. In order to receive an appointment, residents must call (910) 947-7468 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays or from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The hotline is not staffed on Mondays or weekends.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas is holding twice-a-week vaccination clinics at the Fair Barn in Pinehurst. Appointments must be scheduled online at schedule.firsthealth.org.
“We encourage anyone who wants a vaccine to register,” Sloan said.
Matt Garner, public information officer for the health department, said the area’s coronavirus trends have improved following two consecutive months of declining cases.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Garner told the health board on Monday. “We’re creeping back down to the numbers that we saw in September and October.”
He noted that the county saw a rolling average of nine new infections for the week that ended March 24, the fewest recorded since July 18.
The county’s positivity rate for coronavirus testing stood at 5.3 percent on Monday, lower than the statewide average of 7 percent. Only four Moore County residents were being treated for COVID-19 at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, according to the health department.
A total of 8,440 cases have been confirmed in Moore County since the start of the pandemic, and at least 188 residents have died of the disease. More-contagious variants of the virus have been identified in other parts of the state, but Garner said those variants have yet to reach the Sandhills.
“The good news is early indications tell us that all of the currently available vaccines are effective at protecting people against the three variants,” he said.
Leo Santowasso, chairman of the Moore County Board of Health, said he was encouraged by the data presented on Monday.
“Everything seems to be trending in the right direction, even though some other parts of the country are having spikes,” he said.