WILMINGTON — Gov. Roy Cooper exited a black SUV alongside his security detail early Thursday afternoon to greet local politicians who had gathered outside a downtown Wilmington vaccine clinic.
The governor was in New Hanover County to tour the Martin Luther King Center — a city-owned building that has serviced more than 12,000 vaccine appointments since late January.
The building on 8th Street is the centerpiece of an athletic complex across from Williston Middle School. A funeral home and barbershop mark street corners a few blocks south. Across the street from the vaccine hub, a flag marketing “New Homes” waves on the lawns of under-construction lots, woven into the existing neighborhood.
After mingling with local politicians Cooper walked through the vaccine clinic, taking selfies with National Guard volunteers and bumping fists with members of the public who had just received their second shot of the two-dose regimen.
Cooper asked the front desk greeter if any walk-ins had come through seeking a first dose. Only one, he was told.
“Got to work on that, guys,” he said, moving into the gymnasium. “Got a lot to do.”
As of Thursday, more than 107,000 New Hanover County residents have been vaccinated with at least one shot, a few percentage points shy of a 50% vaccination rate.
In the current vaccine landscape, supply of doses abounds but robust public demand for the products now lacks. Locally, major vaccine providers in the county, public health and New Hanover Regional Medical Center, have taken in far fewer doses on a weekly basis compared to previous months.
“This is a national issue that’s happening across the country,” Cooper said. “The good thing is we have a shot for every person that wants one. And before, that wasn’t the case. We have a lot of people that wanted one, and there wasn’t enough. Now we have enough.”
Meanwhile, younger demographics now account for more Covid-19 hospitalizations than before the vaccine rollout. With tides shifting, mega-vaccine sites like those previously seen in Mecklenburg County are no longer en vogue. Cooper said smaller family practices are now taking on more of a role. Since the bulk of vaccine enthusiasts have already sought out their doses, the remaining population will likely require more convincing, Cooper said.
“We’re constantly evolving our messaging, getting out vaccine not as much to big health providers, but into the general practice offices,” he said.
Another reason the doctor’s office could be the next frontier of the inoculation movement is the expected approval of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals as young as 12, explained Charlene Wong, the state’s chief health policy advisor for Covid-19.
“It’s really about that trusted messenger,” Wong said.
Donna Fayko, New Hanover County health and human services director, gave remarks after Cooper made the rounds of the vaccine center. She was followed by Olson-Boseman, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, then Cooper.
Cooper gave a shout-out to the Wilmington film scene and told Saffo that he liked the mayor’s beard. “We are going to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever before,” he said. A pocket of protestors holding signs that said “Un-Mask Our Children” and “No Vax Passports” heckled the speakers on occasion.
Cooper made a similar visit to a Charlotte vaccination site Wednesday, where he hyped up collaborative efforts to distribute the vaccine. Two weeks ago the governor did the same in Buncombe County.
“You’re going to have some people who are going to be entrenched, that you are not going to be able to convince,” Cooper said in an interview. “We want that number to be as small as possible.”
Health officials announced Thursday that the statewide percentage of partially vaccinated people had eclipsed 50%. Cooper and the state health team are looking for a two-thirds partial vaccination rate among adults by June 1 in order to drop the indoor mask mandate.
“We’re all very extremely proud of the work that we are doing to vaccinate our community against Covid-19,” Fayko said. “We look forward to raising the percent of our population to a level of immunity where we can fully open our summer and enjoy it here in our lovely coastal county.”
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