Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina has seen its coronavirus vaccination rate slow to a crawl in recent weeks, so state officials hope President Joe Biden can revive the push for people to roll up their sleeves.
Biden visited Green Road Community Center in north Raleigh on Thursday afternoon to thank the people staffing a mobile vaccination clinic there, discuss the importance and ease of getting vaccinated and mobilize an outreach effort to get shots to nearby residents.
“Don’t put it off any longer. Just do it. Just do it,” the president, standing in front of a banner that proclaimed, “We Can Do This,” told a cheering crowd inside the community center.
“There’s no reason to leave yourself vulnerable to the deadly virus for one single day more,” he said.
Only 55 percent of adults statewide have received at least one vaccine dose, which is the same percentage as a week ago, according to state Department of Health and Human Services statistics. Fifty-two percent are fully vaccinated. Nationwide, nearly 66 percent of adults have had at least one dose.
The Green Road center is in a neighborhood where only 36 percent of people age 12 or older are vaccinated, compared with about 54 percent in Wake County. About three-quarters of the people in the neighborhood are either Black or Latino, and there are few health care providers nearby, according to census data.
“The youth, 15 to 24, a lot of them are against [vaccinations]. I don’t understand why. They just feel a distrust for the government,” said Samuel Fells-El, who lives in the area and is so passionate about getting people vaccinated that he designed a T-shirt with the slogan Vax-a-Nation.
“Everyone over 60 that they love, if they want them to be OK, then they need to get vaccine,” Fells-El said.
“I just think going door to door and having regular communication with the community is key here and to have people able and available to answer their questions to get vaccinations,” said Amanda Edwards, a physician assistant at WakeMed who was working at the Green Road vaccination clinic. “It’s spending time getting to know people, answering their questions, finding out what their concerns are and making them comfortable while encouraging them to get vaccinations.”
Biden has already acknowledged that the U.S. will fall short of his goal to get 70 percent of adults vaccinated by July 4. Cohen said she believes North Carolina can reach the 70 percent threshold, although she couldn’t say how long it will take.
“What we have seen is that it is possible,” she said. “We are seeing states reach that 70 percent mark. I want that here in North Carolina.”
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have at least 70 percent of adults who have had at least one vaccine dose, led by Vermont at 84.5 percent, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Virginia, at 70.2 percent, is the only state in the Southeast to hit that mark.
Only 11 states have lower vaccination rates than North Carolina.
Dr. Rasheeda Monroe, a pediatrician with WakeMed, told Biden about the group of Black, female physicians that has helped vaccinate 14,000 people in underserved communities in the Raleigh area.
“We worked with community partners, Black churches, HBCUs [and] Latinx churches to get to the community to bring the vaccine to them,” Monroe said. “Our goal was to overcome the barriers, transportation and computer access, internet access – those types of things – to really reach the communities most impacted by this terrible pandemic.
“We wanted people to see themselves in us and be able to ask questions and trust the messengers,” she added.
Donald Hughes, who runs a mobile vaccine clinic in Durham, said he was honored to meet the president.
“It really felt like validation that we’ve been putting in,” Hughes said. “While I’m excited to be here, I know that the work continues, and there are many more people who need to be vaccinated.”
Cohen said North Carolina needs to focus its efforts on people who want to get the shot but haven’t found time to do so and those who still have questions about the vaccines.
“We know we need to meet people where they are. We are going to use a range of tactics,” she said.
One tactic is awarding four $1 million prizes in drawings open to anyone 18 or older who’s had at least one vaccine dose, along with four $125,000 college scholarships to anyone ages 12 to 17 who’s had a shot. The first drawings for each were held Wednesday.
But the prizes haven’t generated much enthusiasm among the state’s unvaccinated. The average number of shots administered each day across the state has fallen in each of the last two weeks since the incentive program was rolled out.
“We know it’s going to take different types of incentives to motivate folks to get vaccinated,” Cohen said. “I think the biggest motivation for me is about protecting yourself and others. These vaccines work. They are safe, they are free, and who wouldn’t want to protect themselves from going into the hospital and potentially dying?”
“There’s not one reason that folks aren’t getting it,” said Kate Deidter-Maradei, who was at the Green Road center for Biden’s visit. “Some folks are reticent about vaccines in general, other folks might have political reasons that preclude them from wanting to go forward, and then there is also some bad information that’s been circulated.”
Paris Dennard, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, scoffed at the notion that Biden would boost vaccination rates in North Carolina.
“I don’t think Joe Biden can’t excite anybody to do anything, especially when it comes to getting the vaccine,” Dennard said.
Cohen said getting more people vaccinated is critical with the Delta variant of the virus spreading quickly.
“It spreads more quickly, and it makes you more sick. We don’t want any part of that,” she said. “These vaccines are effective against the Delta variant, and the more we get vaccinated within our state, it protects all of us together.”
Teresa Burch, of Roxboro, had COVID-19 a year ago and still has antibodies to the virus. So, she has no plans to get vaccinated.
“What’s the hidden agenda? Why are you trying to get me to do this? Why are you so bent on me taking this vaccine that you want to give $4 million away?” Burch wondered.
“I feel like my body is going to recognize if my body is going to get sick again, and it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do,” she said.
Cohen said people who have been sick do have antibodies to coronavirus, but it’s unclear how long they last.
“You do get some immunity, for sure,” she said. “But the vaccine is specifically designed for that purpose, so it supercharges your body’s learning so your antibodies are really strong.”
A new study by the CDC shows adults ages 18 to 24 were most likely to report being unsure about getting vaccinated.
Jason Mariani, 23, of Wake Forest, falls into that group and said he and his contemporaries feel a little invincible.
“With me being young and healthy, I feel that, if I were to get COVID, it’s not something that’s not going to hugely take me down or take me out,” Mariani said.
Cohen responded to that argument by noting, “While your risk is less, it is not zero.” She added that those young adults put others around them at risk.
The vaccines are safe and effective, she said, but Burch is waiting for full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I know somebody has to be tested. I just don’t want that somebody to be me or my kids,” she said.
WRAL Investigative Data Journalist Ali Ingersoll and WRAL anchor/reporters Lena Tillett and Mark Boyle contributed to this report.
Credit: Source link