Sunday, March 26, 2023

‘It’s not over until it’s over’: Health officials work from backstock to move vaccinations along

New Hanover County Public Health has over 3,000 vaccines on hand. The state has stopped requesting new doses from the federal government at this time. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

The vaccination scene has transitioned from an enthusiastic stampede at high-throughput sites, seen from January to April, now to a softer approach marked by doctor’s office conversations and gimmicky outreach efforts. 

The pace of new shots has slowed since the April high, and North Carolina has been declining new doses from the federal government for weeks. 

Turnout from the earliest target groups, healthcare workers and senior citizens, has been strong; nearly 33,000 residents 65-and-older have been vaccinated in New Hanover County. The remaining work requires relationship-building, said health director David Howard, as North Carolina in general lags behind an ambitious federal goal to vaccinate 70% of Americans by July 4.

“Our message to the public is that it’s not over until it’s over,” Howard said. “We’re just trying to put the ball over the goal line. We’re not there yet.”

The flatlined demand at the state level led to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services stopping the intake of new vaccines. This leaves shot-providers with the existing stock to source from, a reality Howard said has not impacted operations in New Hanover County. 

The lifespan of the Pfizer vaccine, when stored in ultra-cold temperatures, is six months past the manufacture date, according to a company spokesperson. This means the earliest shipments of Pfizer would just now be approaching expiration, but those have long been administered. 

The Johnson and Johnson one-shot vaccine originally lasted three months, until June 10 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a shelf life extension. Now they’re approved for four-and-a-half months stored between 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The decision is based on data from ongoing stability assessment studies,” according to a spokesperson from Janssen (the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the J&J vaccine). “A single-shot vaccine that provides protection and prevents hospitalization and death is an important tool in the global fight against Covid-19.”

The Moderna vaccine can be kept in freezer conditions for up to six months

New Hanover County Public Health possessed 3,215 Covid-19 vaccine doses as of June 21. There is a clinic set up at Independence Mall, and vaccines are available at the Health and Human Services headquarters. 

Since December, the state has channeled nearly 80,000 doses to NHC Public Health (1,765 are “extra doses” that have been tapped from some vials). Nearly 17,000 were sent to other medical facilities, and 60,012 were put into arms. According to numbers supplied by the county, only 10 doses are not accounted for. 

A spokesperson for New Hanover Regional Medical Center did not supply vaccine tallies for NHRMC specifically, but did provide data for Novant Health’s entire medical facility portfolio. 

“Due to decreased demand and widespread vaccine availability from other community providers, we are shifting COVID-19 vaccine administration to our clinics and inpatient areas,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. 

Novant Health’s campuses have received 540,000 total Covid-19 vaccine doses. 

“To date, we have administered about 500,000 doses of vaccine and counting,” according to a Novant Health spokesperson. “We have been very careful stewards of vaccine with less than 1% (~.2%) of allocated doses being discarded due to a variety of factors. While it has been extremely minimal, we follow state guidelines for discarding doses, which have evolved over time as eligibility and supply have expanded.”

Meanwhile, health officials are sounding alarms about variant strains that may possess resistance to the vaccines, states are turning to lotteries to spur demand, and a conversation is swirling around an anti-parasitic drug that could have repurposed potential as a Covid-19 prophylactic.

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