[Contributed Photo: Healthcare workers vaccinated people Saturday at a local church.]
By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Dr. Karen Smith’s office, in partnership with United Healthcare, vaccinated over 300 people against COVID-19 this weekend during a one-day clinic at Freedom Chapel AME Zion Church.
“We succeeded beyond expectations with the concerted effort of our collaborative partners and volunteers,” Smith said of the event.
She added, they plan to repeat the event in early April with more details on where and when still to be determined.
Vaccine available for age 16-up April 7
All adults 18 and up, and teens age 16 or 17 will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine next week as North Carolina opens up availability to the last and largest priority group.
The state will open vaccine availability to Group 5 beginning April 7, Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced last week.
“All adults will then be eligible for the vaccine,” Cooper said Thursday in a live-streamed press conference. Group 5 also includes 16- and 17-year-olds.
People 18 or older can receive the Moderna or Pfizer two-dose vaccine series, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, but the options are more limited for 16- and 17-year-olds.
“There’s only one of the three vaccines that is currently authorized for emergency use in those 16 or 17,” and that’s the Pfizer vaccine, Cohen said.
The state plans to update its website to make it easier for people to find out which vaccine each provider is offering, so teenagers and their families can find a provider who can give them the Pfizer shots.
None of the vaccines have been authorized for emergency use for people under 16, but clinical trials are underway to test the vaccine’s effectiveness in youth.
All essential workers now eligible
State health officials also announced that the rest of Group 4 – essential workers not already vaccinated – can start getting immunized beginning Wednesday, March 31. People with health conditions that put them at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19, are also part of Group 4 and are already eligible to get the vaccine. Some local vaccine providers in Hoke County were already providing the vaccine ahead of schedule to anyone in Group 4.
Supplies of the vaccine are still limited and appointments may fill up as more people than before finally have a chance to get their shot. Providers including the Hoke Health Department, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and Cape Fear Valley Health continue receiving more shipments of the vaccine each week. And, more providers in Hoke are now able to offer the vaccine.
Dr. Karen Smith, a well-known local medical practitioner, is offering the vaccine during certain times at her office on West Prospect Avenue in Raeford. The Walmart Pharmacy on Fayetteville Road in Hoke County is also now offering vaccine appointments online. Goshen Medical on Southern Avenue in Raeford is additionally listed on the state’s YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov website as a vaccine provider.
Providers in North Carolina have administered more than 4.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, the governor said last week.
“The vaccine is our path to recovery. It is our road to normalcy,” Cooper said.
Officials emphasized that although the numbers continue improving, people should continue taking precautions. The pandemic is not over yet, Cooper said.
“We need to keep up our guard, wear our masks and be responsible,” he said. “We’re close to getting where we want to be, so let’s stay the course and get there faster.”
The governor recently relaxed more pandemic restrictions, allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol at their regular hours. Cooper also ended a statewide curfew and expanded capacity limits, or removed them entirely for some businesses.
Cohen said health officials are having conversations about when things can further get back to normal, but factors such as the COVID-19 virus variants make that harder to determine.
“The wild card in all this is, the virus changes,” she said.
While North Carolina and Hoke County continue to see fewer new cases of coronavirus, some states – particularly in the northeastern United States – are now seeing another increase in new cases.
The state also announced a public-private partnership called Healthier Together that will focus on making the vaccine more accessible to people in marginalized populations. The partnership will work to provide grant funding to support organizations trying to provide transportation and education efforts in local communities. The program is funded through federal COVID-19 dollars, officials said.
Hoke County has seen only 110 new cases of COVID-19 over the last 14 days, including 56 over the last seven days. Hoke County Schools reported six cases of coronavirus over the last week among the roughly 4,500 students currently attending in-person classes. All of the cases were students, none were teachers or staff.
Overall the county has seen a total of 4,345 known positive cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
While most of those people are considered recovered from the virus, and many were asymptomatic and did not feel ill, the contagious illness has also taken its toll. Hoke has seen 55 residents die after testing positive for COVID-19, since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 12,000 people in all of North Carolina, and over 540,000 in the United States have died of coronavirus-related causes, according to public health agencies.
Vaccinations continue in Hoke, with over 6,700 people having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 4,400 people in Hoke are completely vaccinated. That means about 12.3 percent of Hoke’s population has received at least one vaccine shot, and about 8 percent are considered fully vaccinated.
That’s on the low side when compared to surrounding counties. In Scotland County nearly 25 percent of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with almost 15 percent fully vaccinated. In Cumberland County, over 51,700 people, or about 15.4 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine shot, with about 11.4 percent fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, Moore County has fully vaccinated over 22 percent of its population and partially vaccinated over 30 percent of residents.