NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The size of Covid-19 vaccine shipments entering the Cape Fear region has declined in recent weeks as local providers report a decreasing need for hefty supply.
The vaccination effort now approaches month five; at the outset, state leaders were frantic to expend the weekly bounty of doses received from the federal government each week. Moderna and Pfizer shots were delivered to local providers with the expectation of hasty administration.
In the early months, prioritization of speedy delivery was paired with a public ravenous for the vaccine. Phone lines at the New Hanover County coronavirus call center were standardly congested when appointments would open. When the county first implemented online booking, appointments were filled within minutes.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen laid the situation to vaccine providers in a letter dated Jan. 26.
“As we look ahead, because of the amazing work of our provider partners, our maximum capacity in NC will continue to outstrip our anticipated state allocation,” she wrote. “Despite the drop in the coming week, I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is that we stay on pace to meet our goal of using all our first doses during the week we receive them.”
Now the landscape has shifted. Even with all North Carolinians 16-and-older eligible to receive the vaccine, providers locally are not asking for more shots. Walk-in appointments are becoming more common, whereas appointment-based vaccinations were predominant earlier in the year.
NCDHHS now invites vaccine providers to request their preferred number of vaccines on a weekly basis. Local providers in the tri-county region continue to vaccinate individuals with vaccines obtained in previous weeks.
Cape Fear Clinic, a healthcare provider for underinsured and uninsured patients, routinely administered 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine each week since its onboarding early on in the vaccination campaign. After a recent scheduling effort to find 100 takers came up short, the clinic opted to request zero doses this week.
“We’ve clearly bumped up against a resistance situation,” said M. Kent Locklear, chief medical officer at the clinic.
In all, Pender County will intake 200 doses of the vaccine this week. Brunswick County’s total has hovered over 4,000 new first doses per week over the last month, but this week the number dropped to 1,170.
Only 400 first doses are inbound to New Hanover County this week, according to NCDHHS. (Two weeks ago the number was 2,470 and last week it was 1,470.) Three-hundred of those are slated to go to a Medac on Shipyard Boulevard and the other 100 to Market Street Pharmacy.
State officials now allow local providers to hang onto vaccine stock for longer than a week.
“New Hanover County Public Health chose to receive additional vaccine supply from the state over the past couple of weeks to assure we are able to serve our residents still un-vaccinated,” a New Hanover County spokesperson wrote in an email. “So we now have ample supply of doses above our regular baseline allotment.”
The spokesperson noted that, meanwhile, other vaccine providers had been declining doses in previous weeks. For example, New Hanover Regional Medical Center has declined new vaccine stock since Apr. 12. (Second-dose shots are automatically sent in shipments that correlate with the associated round of first doses).
“The decrease in demand for vaccinations over the past couple of weeks is a shift from prior weeks when we were using all of the supply on-hand,” the spokesperson wrote. “Therefore, for the first time, we decided to not request additional first doses for this week. We continue to provide first doses with our on-hand supplies at our clinics on a walk-up basis to assure everyone has convenient access to the vaccine.”
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