BRUNSWICK COUNTY — It took all of 10 minutes for Brunswick County to fill last week’s Covid-19 vaccination appointments. With just 100 doses allotted, the county received 6,000 phone calls from those seeking inoculation.
Friday, Brunswick County Chairman Randy Thompson penned a letter to N.C. Governor Roy Cooper asking the state for more vaccines.
“The one thing that we’re sure of is if our vaccine allotment doesn’t increase with the county, the amount of time that it’s going to take to vaccinate everyone is going to be extended quite a ways into this new year,” Thompson said in a phone call Tuesday. “So you can’t have thousands desiring to be vaccinated and only hundreds of doses to provide.”
Thompson hopes his letter will help increase the county’s vaccine allotment but recognizes competition is high, as demand far exceeds supply statewide.
“We’ve really got to get the governor’s office to work on their distribution plan to really help us out,” Thompson said.
Brunswick County’s elderly population is twice that of the state’s; nearly one-third of the county’s residents are 65 and older. A booming retirement community, these residents are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, which has more adverse outcomes for older individuals.
At 78 total Covid-19 deaths, Brunswick County’s death rate per 100,000 residents (54.6) is higher than New Hanover County’s (42.2) but less than N.C.’s (71.9).
In the letter to Cooper, Thompson wrote the county is concerned that a lack of vaccine for the current group in Phase 1B would lead to a lag in reaching Group 2 in a timely manner, on par with the rest of the state. The first group in the state’s vaccination plan for Phase 2 includes any adults aged 65-74 regardless of health status, followed by Group 2, which includes anyone 16-64 with an underlying health condition.
Federal guidance issued Tuesday afternoon favors age group and health status over a person’s place of work, which may prompt the state to reassess its vaccination rollout.
The county is equipped to handle additional doses of both Moderna and Pfizer, Thompson wrote. As of this week, it has only received the Moderna vaccine.
Brunswick County isn’t alone in its overloaded phone lines. Following last week’s announcement that free vaccinations would open up to those 75 and older in the state’s Phase 1B, Group 1, Pender, New Hanover, and Brunswick counties all announced a fully booked schedule for the week of Jan. 11.
Some counties are clamoring for more supply while others have doses still sitting on the shelf. The state is allocating supply to both health departments and hospital systems.
It is not clear what specific criteria the state used in shaping last week’s county health department allocations. It’s likely not population: Pender County — with a total population of 63,060 — received 300-400 doses, compared to Brunswick County’s 100, meant to serve a population base more than twice as large.
Thompson said Tuesday he wasn’t sure exactly how the state came up with last week’s 100-dose allocation to the county’s health department — its “smallest allocation yet,” he wrote to Cooper. “We’ve got many more of those residents that desire the vaccine than what we have available,” he said.
Novant Health received 975 doses both last week and this week, according to its spokesperson. As of Tuesday, 518 hospital employees had received their first dose and 202 had received their second. Between Jan. 8 and Jan. 13, Novant and the county health department had vaccinated 533 members of the public, according to the hospital spokesperson.
Novant Health has shared excess supply with the county, Thompson said. Novant, Dosher Memorial, and the county health department announced Friday residents 75 and older should sign up for an online MyChart account to be notified of their eligibility to receive the vaccine. Thompson said this alert and scheduling system should cut down on problems overloaded phone lines can present.
In a press conference held last week, the governor explained future regional allotments would be based on demand. Essentially, if a county didn’t use up its allocation quickly, resources would be reallocated to counties that did.
As of Tuesday, 190,195 North Carolinians have received their first dose of vaccine, according to the latest N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data.
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