NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After receiving only 300 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine designated for first shots this week, New Hanover County will receive a boost from the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. 700 doses of the hospital’s supply will be rerouted to New Hanover public health.
North Carolina’s initial vaccine rollout gave rise to backlogs across the state, according to health officials, who were then told by the federal government that having unused vaccines on hand would negatively impact the size of future shipments. As state leaders sought to clear the backlog by dedicating large portions of vaccine supply to massive vaccination events, many of them in Charlotte, many local health departments were left with little or no doses in past weeks.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced all counties would receive a guaranteed baseline of vaccine doses moving forward. Despite its capacity to administer thousands of doses per week, New Hanover County had its baseline set at 300 doses.
This week, facing the reality of only having 300 doses to administer, the county implored NHRMC to forward along a portion of its supply. While NHRMC receives vaccines directly from the state’s supply channels — a baseline of 1,950 per week — it has also been the beneficiary of past transfers from New Hanover County.
“In the beginning, when we were getting more doses than the hospital was, we were helping them, and now they are doing the same for us,” a county spokesperson said.
David Howard, the county’s interim health director, wrote an email to NHRMC leaders last week.
“We are receiving only 300 next week per the spreadsheet, and of course have capacity for much more administrations,” Howard wrote. “More for us to administer will assist us in maintaining our scale of operations and fulfill some important outreach opportunities we have.”
Given the county’s ability to administer far more than 300 doses in a week, and the hospital’s responsibility to also administer a bulky shipment of second-dose shots in the coming days, “we’re thinking our taking 700 off your hands would be a smart move all around,” Howard wrote.
The 700 doses of Moderna vaccine the county vied for are part of an additional allocation from the state, tagged as “equity” doses. Those vaccines are sent to certain providers in areas with high proportions of minority residents, or to counties that received diminished shipments in recent weeks.
J. West Paul, NHRMC chief clinical officer, told Howard those doses might have already been earmarked for certain uses, “mainly our attempt to bring parity to our underserved populations in the county through several outreach processes.”
He continued: “We have made a commitment to the State to try to close these gaps by March 21st, which is why we have received the Moderna allocation.”
According to demographic tracking tools added to the N.C. vaccine dashboard, 85% of individuals who received the first shot of the two-dose vaccine regimen in New Hanover County are white, while nearly 8% identify as Black or African American.
According to government data compiled in 2016, approximately 14% of the county’s population is Black. State leaders are urging counties to vaccinate minority residents at levels that meet or exceed the demographic proportion.
On Friday county leaders attempted to join a weekly Zoom call with hospital officials — a standing meeting designed to brainstorm the comprehensive vaccination effort. The hospital entourage was not available and so the meeting did not occur.
By Monday, the agreement to transfer 700 doses from NHRMC to New Hanover County was finalized. Now, the county will have 1,000 doses to work with this week — as it did last week.
“Last week and through today, we used 50 percent of the doses we received to vaccinate historically marginalized populations,” a county spokesperson wrote in an email. “And in the coming weeks, we will work to continue this effort and will also be vaccinating homebound seniors and residents who are socioeconomically disadvantaged as well.”
The spokesperson added the relationship between public health and the hospital is critical to maximizing vaccine availability. While the two entities receive separate shipments of vaccines through the state supply channels, oftentimes doses are reallocated from one to another, depending on the total allotment and the needs of the given week.
“The partnership the county has with NHRMC has really been important in these vaccination efforts – we have transferred vaccine to them and now they have done the same for us,” the spokesperson wrote. “We have the same goal and that is to get the vaccine to as many people in the community as we can.”
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