If you’re 65 or older in Moore County, your best strategy at this point for the coronavirus vaccine is to go outside the county.
State health officials are badly frustrating vaccination efforts with a weak stream of vaccines to a county where almost a quarter of the population is eligible right now. Medical professionals are seriously telling people they’re better off making an appointment in Hoke or Cumberland counties.
And even if you do get an appointment in Moore County but you can’t drive or have anyone who can take you? You’re out of luck if you can’t get yourself to the Moore County Health Department in Carthage or the Fair Barn in Pinehurst, where FirstHealth and Pinehurst Medical Clinic are inoculating their patients.
This is our coronavirus vaccination strategy these days in Moore County. Hamstrung by a lack of a reasonable allotment of vaccine doses, and having little means of reaching out to those of limited mobility, our progress is creeping and uneven.
“It is so frustrating because our state partners know what the demographics are in Moore County, and to cut the number of vaccines available for this vulnerable population is like having the rug pulled out from under you,” said County Commissioners Chairman Frank Quis.
Operation Warp Speed may have delivered a medical miracle, but this next phase of delivery might as well be Operation Warped Speed.
‘Trickle to a Drip’
Our problems — access and availability — are twofold, but the greatest problem is lack of available dosages. More doses are going to urban centers — like Fayetteville — for large-scale vaccination clinics. The state’s complex criteria for supply includes things like relative wealth and poverty and underserved health care populations. Moore ranks low in those metrics.
And so Moore County Health Department Director Robert Wittmann said last week doses have been slashed these next three weeks by about 60 percent. The department’s weekly shipments are now expected to contain 400 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, down from 1,000 doses in previous weeks. FirstHealth is seeing similar cuts.
Now beginning our second full month of vaccinating, only about 2,700 have actually gotten vaccinated through the Health Department. FirstHealth, which is running vaccination clinics in Pinehurst as well as in Richmond, Hoke and Montgomery counties, is better, having administered more than 11,000 first doses overall and 4,500 first doses locally. So overall, Moore County has about 8 percent of its population with at least one dose of the vaccine.
“We went from a trickle to a drip when we needed this to be turned on like a firehose,” Wittmann said.
For Now, We’re Stuck
At some point, doses will increase. Access, though, has no answer waiting. Drugstores and grocery store pharmacies will get limited doses to administer for people meeting the current state guidelines. More distribution points is a start, but it still doesn’t address residents who may have no means of getting to an appointment.
Consider the residents at Southern Pines Gracious Retirement Living, who first were told they could get vaccines delivered and administered but then were later deemed “independent living” and scratched from the list. Many of these residents have no cars and, other than a community bus, no transport.
As the eligibility of vaccination increases, so too will accessibility issues. The answer is not, “Well, they need to find out how to get to us.” The answer, like most answers in public health, is expanding outreach.
Availability and access problems are not of the Health Department’s making, but at least access is within its realm to solve. Mr. Wittmann needs to get his staff thinking NOW about how to reach folks at Gracious Retirement Living and other disconnected, needy communities.
In the meantime, for the best opportunity to get stuck with a vaccine needle, you’re stuck with driving out of town. Here, we’re engaged in Operation Warped Speed.